COMMENT: Those behind their laptops may describe him as moody. Even miserable. But whatever the real vibe coming from Jose Mourinho in preseason, the Manchester United manager delivered another media masterclass this week...
In public, with a microphone stuck under his chin, Mourinho never says anything off the cuff. Nothing is done on a whim. And it was the same in Miami. The manager was shrewd. Calculating. And he didn't miss.
For all the wailing on the other side of the Atlantic about 'never criticising your players in public' and staff 'walking on eggshells', Mourinho was effusive with his praise for United's senior players after their win over Real Madrid.
"Phenomenal", he described those on tour, "amazing" he also remarked. And then he named them. But not just those on the pitch at Hard Rock stadium, but significantly the World Cup players already running around at Carrington.
"These are the players that we have," declared Mourinho, "plus (Victor) Lindelof, that started training two days ago, plus Marcus Rashford, (Phil) Jones and (Romelu) Lukaku, because they gave to the group and to the team three days of their holidays, so they're coming back three days early to try and be available for the team."
And that was it. That was the information Mourinho wanted relayed to the rest of us. Carefully. Surgically. He separated those prepared to make a sacrifice for the club from the 'dirty stop-outs'. It was typical Mourinho: ruthless, but genius.
Where Rashford is prepared to go above and beyond, England teammates Jesse Lingard and Ashley Young stayed away. Where Lukaku cut short his partying for the team, Marouane Fellaini is still sunning himself in LA. And while most will excuse Paul Pogba for indulging himself after France's success, with the kick off next Friday it's clear to all that making the Leicester City game was never in his thoughts. If United stumble in these opening weeks, Mourinho is making sure we all know it'll be down to those who stayed away in the second-half of preseason.
That Anthony Martial would post his "family comes first" message barely hours after the manager's remarks was an unexpected bonus. Sympathy is diminishing fast. Even those at the Manchester Evening News appear to now be siding with the manager, with long time scribes branding the Frenchman 'surly' just yesterday.
Martial has effectively written off his United career this summer. His agent kicked off the transfer window by declaring he wants out. He refused to return to the US after the birth of his second child. He's skipped Wednesday's training session at Carrington. And now followed that up with his defiant post. How on earth does he get back from that?
But the Frenchman is no Robinson Crusoe. For this column, it's staggering that Lukaku should be at Carrington this morning, while his Belgium teammate Fellaini stays away. As baffling as it was that Mourinho put himself so far out on a limb for the midfielder, both in defiance of supporter opinion and that of the board over a new contract, it's no match to the lack of appreciation shown by the player this past week.
Fellaini, now with that long-term, lucrative deal his manager helped prise out of Ed Woodward this summer, should've been back before Lukaku. Before even Lindelof. Mourinho, more than anyone, has given Fellaini an opportunity in the game more talented players would crawl over broken glass for. Yet after all the hesitation last season about signing new terms, there's more of it now. A plea from his manager. An SOS to get himself ready for next Friday's kickoff. Yet, with that new contract in his vault, Fellaini is taking full advantage of what the PFA reckon he's owed in terms of a 'break'.
An accusation which cannot be leveled at Rashford. A young player. A young, English player. One who is willing to go the extra mile. Both he and his advisors deserve praise for this move.
Mourinho, you hope, will reward this show of commitment. The manager twice highlighted Rashford's sacrifice just this week. This decision could make the striker's season.
Post Miami, was it a line in the sand? Maybe not. But beyond all the hand wringing from those covering Mourinho this US tour, the manager sent a clear message to fans. You all know who to blame should United stumble in the first weeks of this campaign.