Mourinho: 'Legend' Rooney deserves a hero's welcome
But United boss tells fans in jest to cheer for former captain only before and after match
All eyes will be on Wayne Rooney when the former Manchester United captain returns to Old Trafford tomorrow as an Everton player.
The 31-year-old left United to return to boyhood club Everton this summer after 13 successful years with the Red Devils, for whom he scored a record 253 goals in 559 appearances.
Man United manager Jose Mourinho said yesterday that Rooney should be regarded as a United legend, but immediately stressed that he is now an Everton player who will want to beat them.
"I think he'll get the welcome that he deserves," said Mourinho, whose side are leading the Premiership table on goal difference ahead of city rivals Manchester City.
"I think sometimes, in this country, the word 'legend' comes too easily.
"It is used too easily, but he deserves that title.
"He's a real legend of the club. The number of appearances, goals, trophies, clearly he's one of the most important players in the history of Manchester United.
"I think the stadium will show him the respect he deserves. I hope before the match and after but not during it."
Asked whether Rooney had benefited from his return to Everton, Mourinho shut the conversation down, replying: "He is an Everton player, I'm not going to speak more.
"He's a legend, he deserves to be welcomed that way but, during the match, he's an Everton player who will want to win the game."
Everton must regroup against the Premier League leaders after a 3-0 hammering by Atalanta in the Europa League yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Toffees manager Ronald Koeman put the blame on himself, calling it a big lesson on their return to European football after three years.
"It is a big lesson tonight," Koeman told the club's official website.
"But it is not the time or the place to criticise the players.
"I have to criticise myself because the team were not prepared for this tonight."
Koeman said that he saw a big difference in the belief and confidence between his side and Italy's Atalanta, who returned to European competition after 26 years.
"They had aggression and passion. We made mistakes, the pitch wasn't the best either, but it was the same for them," said the Dutchman.
Koeman's men have conceded eight goals in defeats by Chelsea, Tottenham and Atalanta, but Mourinho warned his side against complacency.
"I'm not going to analyse in that perspective," Mourinho said. "I am just going to say they are a team with an incredible investment.
"An investment (on a par with) the teams that want to play for the title, so I am sure that their objective, if not the title, is the top four.
"So lots of good players, a good team, a very difficult match for us."
Paul Pogba's hamstring injury sustained against Basel in the Champions League on Tuesday will rule him out of tomorrow's match, but Mourinho has no doubt that United can cope without the French star.
Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini are all standing by to replace Pogba.
"We have players waiting for an opportunity," Mourinho said. "Because we have started the season really well and with one match per week, (with) no need of resting, (to make) changes, we were basically going with the same players.
"But there are good players more than ready to play, so honestly, we miss Pogba, we need Pogba, but we have good players.
"Herrera, Fellaini, Carrick, they are waiting - they are waiting for a chance to start matches and to play matches from the beginning.
"Squads are (there) to try to cope with these kind of situations and we know that for a few matches - I don't know how many, I really cannot tell you how many I expect - but we are going to play without Pogba a few matches." - WIRE SERVICES