- Associated Press - Friday, September 23, 2016

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - Jose Mourinho has cut an unhappy figure during Manchester United’s first wobble in his time at Old Trafford.

The smile has gone. The answers in interviews are getting shorter. His list of targets for criticism is getting longer. He is even starting to feel sorry for himself.

“The worst manager in the history of football,” Mourinho said of himself, sarcastically, on Friday.

Three losses in nine days led to widespread criticism of Mourinho’s management style and the makeup of his United team. Beating third-tier club Northampton in the English League Cup on Wednesday gave Mourinho some brief respite, but there will be more scrutiny if United loses at home to Leicester in the Premier League on Saturday.

Mourinho won his first four games in charge of United but the honeymoon period is over. He has been typically outspoken in railing against refereeing decisions, those he described as “Einsteins” in the media, and against even his own players on occasion over the past two weeks.

Mourinho insisted Friday he was “upset with nothing” and was a “lucky guy,” saying his only gripe was what he perceived as unfair criticism of his players from outsiders.

“I should protect them, I would love to protect them, (but) I can’t,” Mourinho said. “It is something that is completely out of my control.

“But with me, it’s fine and with the Einsteins it’s fine,” he added. “They can speak, they can write, they can criticize the work of other people, but I am a good man.”

Yet, it was Mourinho who was criticizing United players Luke Shaw, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard after poor performances or individual mistakes during recent matches. Mourinho was the same with some of his Chelsea players during his second spell at Stamford Bridge.

One player he continues to support is captain Wayne Rooney, who has taken the brunt of criticism during United’s poor run.

Mourinho said he believes there is a direct correlation between Rooney’s slump in form and some criticism England’s record goal scorer received after his performance in England’s 1-0 win over Slovakia in World Cup qualifying on Sept. 4.

“Honestly, I think there was a Wayne before the Slovakia-England and a Wayne after Slovakia-England,” Mourinho said, adding that he in no way held England manager Sam Allardyce responsible for any loss of form.

“I am not blaming Sam, not at all. I am blaming the people who, after the England-Slovakia were, in my opinion, too strong with somebody that is a very important player in the history of English football,” Mourinho said. “I think it was too much. But I still think, a big boy like he is, he has to face it in a strong way.”

Mourinho’s comments came a day after Rooney said he wasn’t affected by the disparaging remarks made about him.

“I’ve had that my whole career,” Rooney said, “a little bit more of late, I think, but that’s football. I listen to my coaches and my teammates, the people around me, and I don’t really listen to what a lot of people out there are saying because a lot of it is rubbish.”

Mourinho has a big call to make on Rooney, who was the only first-team regular to play the full 90 minutes against Northampton. That means he might be left out for a match against Leicester that comes less than 72 hours later.

Mourinho said Anthony Martial will miss the Leicester game because of calf and ankle problems sustained in the 3-1 loss at Watford on Sunday.

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