Jose Mourinho’s Roma punched their ticket to a second successive European final with perhaps the most Jose Mourinho second leg of football you will ever witness.
Nothing is a surprise anymore with this man. We all know his game, we all know how it starts, blossoms and ends in tears. But something is in the air at Roma. This time it feels slightly different.
Free from the shackles of Glazer-owned Manchester United and the torment that is Tottenham Hotspur, Mourinho has got his mojo back in Italy.
The same country where he landed Inter their first ever continental treble a decade or so ago, the Portuguese icon has now headed further south for Rome, and is picking up where he left off in Italy, in equally outstanding fashion.
Before his arrival in 2021, Roma had never tasted success on the European stage. And no, we’re not counting the 1961 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Deal with it.
Sure, they’d been hanging around in the several spheres of European football, but they’d never quite taken it to another level. In fact, they hadn’t actually won anything since 2008. The Giallorossi were underachieving. Hurting. And so too was Mourinho, which is where it became a match made in heaven.
In his first season at the helm, Mourinho guided Roma all the way to lifting the first ever edition of the UEFA Europa Conference League. Their first major European honour, their first honour since 2008, and Mourinho’s sixth European final. Oh, he also became the first manager in football to lift all three European trophies on offer from UEFA.
Not that he likes to remind us of those things – he only got a tattoo to commemorate it.
Fast forward around 12 months, and the inaugural Europa Conference League winners are not only looking to force their way back into Italy’s top four, but have just confirmed their place in the Europa League final in Hungary. And they did so in textbook Mourinho style; two legs of sheer, unbridled sufferball.
Xabi Alonso’s up and coming Bayer Leverkusen outfit were the victims, as Roma took a 1-0 lead from the first leg and defended it for their lives in the second. Zero shots on target, 28% possession all night. Vintage. Football heritage. Sorry, Xabi; there’s still life in the old dog yet. You’ll learn from it.
Watching Mourinho’s teams deploy such anti-football tactics in pursuit of silverware is rather nauseating when it’s your team he’s in control of. But when it’s not, it makes things a lot more enjoyable from the outside looking in. Not for the man himself, though. He thrives off it. And his full-time celebrations against Leverkusen showed that.
🎶 There he goes again 🎶
José Mourinho is through to his sixth European final. 💪 pic.twitter.com/aYiAjWoUJZ
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) May 18, 2023
Almost nearly reduced to tears as he reaches a sixth European final of his career. The definition of ‘by any means necessary’.
The embrace with his assistant. The emotion spilling out of his facial expressions. The impassioned celebration and fist-pump with travelling Roma fans. Mourinho just gets it. Football is almost everything to him. Winning in football is everything to him.
In an era of the beautiful game where the obsession is perfection, with every team expected to deploy total football, Mourinho has once again become a breath of fresh air. Humility? Nah, sod that. Exciting football? Do one. This is about winning. This is about being the best. Making history. And while it’s not conventionally pretty, it’s rather beautiful watching the way his sides are able to sh*thouse their way to the top while holding up a middle finger to the concept of football being perfect.
Expect fireworks in Hungary. Jose Mourinho’s 100% record in European finals versus Sevilla’s freakish 100% record in Europa League finals. It’s title vs title. Rock vs Austin at Mania 17. Yeah, the Champions League is what everyone pretends to love, but the real football occurs over in the Europa. The football that still means something.
Win or lose at the Puskas Arena, we’ll never hear the end of this. You know what Don Jose is like. There’s a fired-up press conference in this back-to-back final achievement somewhere, when his back is against the wall. And we’re all for it.