Jose Mourinho cannot guarantee that Wayne Rooney will end the season at Manchester United despite the manager’s desire to keep hold of his captain.
A hamstring injury prevented the 31-year-old from travelling to France for the Europa League last-32 second leg with St Etienne, yet the forward still dominated the pre-match talk.
Rooney continues to be linked with an Old Trafford exit amid reported interest from big-spending Chinese clubs.
Three weeks ago Mourinho said there was no chance his skipper would leave before the season is out, but the United boss did not make the same guarantees when asked about the forward’s future ahead of the Chinese transfer window shutting next week.
“You’ll have to ask him,” the United boss said. “You have to ask him.
“Of course I can’t guarantee (he will be here). I can’t guarantee that I’m here next week, how can I guarantee that a player is here next season?
“What I can guarantee is that if Wayne one day leaves the club it is not because I want him to leave the club. That’s the only thing I can guarantee.
“I would never push – or try to push – a legend of this club to another destiny.
“So you have to ask him if he sees himself staying in the club for the rest of his career or if he sees himself moving.
“It is not a question for me because I am happy to have him.”
Pushed on whether it was possible Rooney could leave in the next week, Mourinho retorted: “You have to ask him, not me.
“I was very open with you in the answer. I don’t want him to leave.”
Rooney’s deal at Old Trafford runs until next summer, with United holding the option to extend it by a further year.
Whether he sees out the season – never mind his deal – remains to be seen, as does the United captain’s availability for Sunday’s EFL Cup final against Southampton.
Rooney returned to light training on the eve of Wednesday’s clash with St Etienne, but the hamstring complaint could yet scupper his chances of featuring at Wembley.
“I don’t know,” Mourinho said. “It was the first time he trained and he didn’t even train 100 per cent with the group.
“You saw 15 minutes open to the press and, yes, he was doing the warm-up and basic things after that.
“But then when the training session was high in intensity, he was not training.
“He has no chance for tomorrow. He’s not here, he stayed back training and let’s see for the weekend.”
Rooney is no longer one of the first names on United’s team sheet, so a return to fitness would by no means guarantee a place in the side.
“When you don’t have a player, you have others,” Mourinho said. “And the others they work, they work hard.
“The team is in a good moment. In the past four months, we lost only one game and we lost a game that we could lose because it’s a two-legged match for the League Cup.
“So the team is in a good moment, we have players in attacking areas, they are playing well. And Rooney is injured, it is simple.”
Phil Jones is another that misses the trip to St Etienne through injury, while influential midfielder Ander Herrera serves a one-match ban.
Matteo Darmian did not travel and Luke Shaw was overlooked for a match that United approach with one foot in the Europa League last 16, having won last week’s first leg 3-0.
“No (we will not play with a relaxed mentality) because we have not already done the job,” Mourinho added.
“(St Etienne manager) Christophe Galtier is a person who manages to motivate his players very well and he will motivate them very well I’m sure, with the help of the fans.
“So 3-0 is indeed a very good result but if we play as we usually play, I think it is mission impossible for St Etienne, even if I do not forget that we played badly in the first 45 minutes in the first week.
“I will tell my players to change their mentality and that they should forget as well that we play a final on Sunday. I want my players to be focused.”