Jose Mourinho has said Wayne Rooney could not be more "hurt" than he is right now, after being dropped by England and with the scrutiny he has faced because of his faltering form.
However, the Manchester United manager refused to admit that Rooney was no longer "first choice" at his club - despite the player not starting the last three matches and with his place in doubt for today's Premier League match at Liverpool.
Not so long ago it would have been unthinkable for Rooney not to be included in such a fixture - he scored the only goal in the corresponding match last season - with Mourinho pinning the 30-year-old's slump in form firmly on what has happened with the England team.
After the last international break, Mourinho declared that "there was a Wayne before the Slovakia-England [game] and a Wayne after the Slovakia-England" with a knock-on effect at United as a result of the criticism he came under.
Asked whether he feared a similar reaction, given Rooney was dropped against Slovenia last Tuesday, Mourinho responded: "I think what you could hurt, you did -already. I don't think you can do more than what you did. So I think, in this moment, it is time for him to recover from what was done to him and the best place for him to do that is feeling like he feels at home here."
It has been an extremely difficult few weeks for Rooney, who saw Jordan Henderson captain England in his absence from the starting line-up. It led the player himself to state that "a time comes when you are not the first name on the team sheet, like I have been in the past" after 13 years as a first choice for England.
Even though Rooney has also been dropped for the recent United games against Leicester, Stoke and Zorya Luhansk, Mourinho -denied this was the case. "Man United, he didn't lose his place. Not at all," he claimed, before adding of leaving out Rooney: "That's my job. That's a choice. I have 24 players. For me, he's first choice."
It was a confusing argument from Mourinho, but one designed to lay the blame for Rooney's troubles firmly on England and, also, the media reaction as to where he fits into the team for club and country. It was also meant to show he was fighting for Rooney.
But Mourinho was highly dismissive again of claims - not least from the player himself - that his future may be as a midfielder. At his -unveiling press conference, Mourinho said Rooney was "a No?9 or a No?10 or a 91/2, but, with me, he will never be a No?6 or even a No?8", and added ahead of the Liverpool match: "If somebody confused him, it was not me."
So is his future in midfield, as Rooney said? Again there was a -response from Mourinho, blaming the debate on what happened with England as he deliberately echoed the words of the now former manager Sam Allardyce - which caused Rooney such angst. "He can play everywhere. That's no problem," Mourinho said.
The manager was then asked to clarify how "low" Rooney actually felt. "No, I didn't say that. I'm not saying that he is low," he responded. But he is hurt? "OK, you can hurt me but you can't put me down," Mourinho countered.
"I think he's the same." Maybe so. Mourinho's tetchiness was revealing, even when he was invited to agree that Rooney is a "big-game player" and gained United that win at Anfield last season. "The records are not important for me. A match is an isolated event," Mourinho said.
The fixture also pits Mourinho against Jurgen Klopp, and there was a withering response as he was asked about the Liverpool manager's demonstrative behaviour on the touchline. By now Mourinho had already stood up to leave the press conference but said: "I'm on the touchline to try to coach. I'm not on the touchline ..." And with that he waved his arms in the air as he walked out.