MANCHESTER • Chris Smalling's fitness is the subject of confusion after claims the defender has a broken toe that rules him out for at least a month were denied by Manchester United.
"The manager (Jose Mourinho) says it is not true," a club representative told Reuters yesterday, without saying when the player was likely to recover from his foot injury.
Earlier, the British media had reported, in what is considered to be more embarrassment for Mourinho, that Smalling had broken a toe so badly in two places that he would be ruled out for at least a month.
The United manager had questioned Smalling's fitness and his willingness to "play through the pain barrier" after pulling out before the 3-1 Premier League win over Swansea last weekend.
An upset Mourinho told MUTV after the match that Smalling "doesn't feel that he can play 100 per cent without pain".
The manager had asked the player to get two injections in his foot for the league game at Chelsea on Oct 23 and the England defender has not played for United since.
The Portuguese singled out Smalling and Luke Shaw last weekend for declaring that they were not fit enough to play, generating a backlash for his comments.
England interim manager Gareth Southgate publicly backed the duo, and former Arsenal defender Martin Keown is the latest to speak on the issue.
"You have to trust your players to manage their own bodies. If you don't allow the player to make that decision, then you lose trust," he said.
"If a manager had fronted me up publicly, I'd be knocking on his door and saying, 'How dare you question me in public.'
"I've judged that I can't play with that injury."
The injury setbacks could not have come at a worse time for Mourinho, who already has injury problems in the United defence.
Eric Bailly, who has been a key figure in central defence since his £30 million (S$53.5 million) move from Villarreal in the summer, is absent for at least another month with knee ligament damage.
Phil Jones has returned to provide some cover at the back but Mourinho is already thought to be considering defensive reinforcements during the January window.
Atletico Madrid's Jose Gimenez, Benfica's Victor Lindelof and former United player Michael Keane are believed to be on the manager's shortlist.