José Mourinho has made clear his frustration at the England setup’s handling of Phil Jones after revealing the defender had been given six local anaesthetic injections in his thigh before last week’s friendly against Germany.
Jones started as England’s most-capped player for the goalless draw at Wembley, but hobbled off midway through the first half with a recurrence of an injury first sustained in the Premier League defeat at Huddersfield Town in mid-October. Gareth Southgate, whose handling of Danny Drinkwater’s decision not to join the senior squad has also drawn criticism of sorts from Antonio Conte, duly released the United centre-half but, having missed the draw with Brazil on Tuesday, Jones has been ruled out of Newcastle United’s visit to Old Trafford.
“With Phil Jones the strange thing is that I have been a manager since 2000 and, in 17 years as a manager, I don’t have one single player that had injections of anaesthetic to play a friendly,” said Mourinho. “Never. I am not an angel and I had players injected to play official matches, crucial matches, but a friendly? To get six local anaesthetic injections to play a friendly, I’ve never heard of that. But Phil Jones had it and had it before the match, and after 25 minutes he was out and tomorrow he is out.”
Asked if he had spoken to Southgate or the Football Association to ascertain why Jones had so many injections, Mourinho said: “No. I am just telling a fact. He was injected in the afternoon of the match [last Friday]. He didn’t feel good during the warm-up. Between the warm-up and the start of the match he had five more local injections to play the friendly. I have nothing more to say.”
The FA’s medics are content that Jones returned to Carrington in the same condition in which he had arrived at St George’s Park, and had given their counterparts at United notice of their intention to give the player the course of injections – considered standard in pain relief – with no objections raised. Indeed, even the 25-year-old had acknowledged in the buildup to the Germany friendly that pain-management was a continuing concern.
Conte, as a former Italy manager, was more sympathetic with Southgate’s predicament when it came to the national coach’s telephone conversation with Drinkwater to determine the midfielder’s availability in the aftermath of six senior withdrawals before the Germany fixture. However, he urged Southgate to contact him directly in future to ascertain whether a player is fit after a “misunderstanding” led to suggestions the £35m signing’s reticence to join up reflected a lack of enthusiasm to represent his country.
Chelsea have always insisted Drinkwater, who has been unavailable for all of Southgate’s squad get-togethers to date, took a kick to his troublesome calf during a cameo as a substitute against United, which prevented him undertaking the post-match warm-down, and subsequently ruled him out of training at Cobham.
Southgate appeared to be unaware of that fact on the eve of the Germany game. “Sometimes I think it would be very easy to try to call the coach and ask: ‘This player is good? Is he totally fit? Does he have a problem? Is he tired or not?’” said Conte. “Then the national coach can decide whether they call up the player or not. Otherwise there are these misunderstandings. And it’s a pity a player has to pay for this misunderstanding.
“Drinkwater had an injury, and also wasn’t really 100% fit to go with the national team. If someone had asked me this, I could explain that. If the coach then wants to take his own decision, that’s OK. But it’s important to have more of a relationship between the coach and the coach of the national team. It was the same for Eden Hazard [when he was called up by Belgium in August despite having failed to represent Chelsea up to then following ankle surgery over the summer]. I spoke to Roberto Martínez, and then he played.
“I’m the first to be ready to help every single coach of a national team because I understand very well the problems [they face]. Now, for sure, I’m more open to this than when I was coach of Juventus. But Drinkwater was very honest. He doesn’t deserve to be attacked. In this situation every single player would want to go with the national team who is calling them. We have to appreciate his behaviour and his commitment.”
That such a relationship does not appear to exist already between England and the Chelsea setup is all the more surprising given Southgate visited Cobham last season and is now assisted by Steve Holland, who was Conte’s No2 last term. “Steve’s a really good person, an intelligent person,” said the head coach. “If they want, I’m ready to help every coach of the national team. Not only the English.”
Conte saw Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, players he considers “the future of Chelsea” who are treading a similar loan route to that of his current centre-back, Andreas Christensen, make their debuts for the England senior side in the window while they gain first-team experience at Swansea and Crystal Palace respectively. The head coach suggested it is easier to blood younger players in friendly fixtures, even at international level, rather than in the highly pressurised Premier League.
“You can do ‘experiments’ under different pressure,” he added. “We must be very intelligent and clear to understand these differences: when the result is not important. For the clubs, the results are always important. Otherwise, [there are calls to] sack the manager and there is the pressure of the press. It’s totally different.”