Jose Mourinho sets sights on another European crown in remarkable managerial journey

Roma boss will be eyeing history when his team take on Feyenoord in inaugural Europa Conference League final

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Should Roma become the first champions of European football’s newest senior competition on Wednesday, keep an eye on any hand signals their head coach makes after the final whistle. Jose Mourinho has a history of counting up his honours on his fingers, and making sure his audience gets the message.

He did it more than once when he worked in the Premier League, reminding, with three fingers pointed skywards, that he has been not only the ‘Special One’ in English football, but the Special Two, and the Special Three - a Premier League-winning manager in 2005 and 2006 with Chelsea and, on returning there, a third time in 2015.

He won a pair of league titles each with Porto and Internazionale, too, and a Spanish Liga while in charge of Real Madrid.

But it is his record European competition that is ready for the full spread-out hand, the signal that he will have won five major Uefa trophies, if Roma live up to their billing as favourites in the inaugural Europa Conference League final against Feyenoord in Tirana.

Victory would give Mourinho another rare distinction: Only two coaches have collected a three-strong collection of different possible Uefa prizes. They were Giovanni Trappatoni and Udo Lattek, in the era when there was a European Cup-Winners Cup running alongside the Uefa Cup - now the Europa League - and the principal tournament, the European Cup, or Champions League.

Roma 1-0 Leicester player ratings

Mourinho could join them at the first opportunity within the 22-year era in which he has been a head coach. The Cup-Winners Cup was discontinued in 1999, two years after a young, bumptious, Portuguese had been part of the staff of a Barcelona team, who won that competition. Mourinho was only 34 then, and an assistant to Barca’s then manager Bobby Robson.

He began his own personal sweep of European trophies not long after, guiding Porto to triumph in the Uefa Cup at the end of what was Mourinho’s first full season coaching a club.

More astonishing was what he achieved a year later, in 2004, winning the Champions League with Porto. It remains the last time a club from outside the strongest four leagues in Europe - England, Spain, Germany or Italy - has lifted club’s football’s most prestigious trophy. For that, it may still rank as the finest of Mourinho’s many achievements.

As if to prove he could do it elsewhere, he won his second Champions League with Inter, part of their 2010 treble, and the 2017 Europa League with Manchester United, a highlight in a mixed, often fractious time at Old Trafford.

Five years on, Mourinho cuts a more contented figure than he did at his 2018 United departure, or during an often abrasive, trophy-barren 18 months at Tottenham Hotspur, the job he left shortly before being taken on by Roma ahead of last summer.

Win on Wednesday, albeit in a competition that ranks as Uefa’s third tier, and Roma can say Mourinho has fulfilled an important part of why they hired him: He is the ‘born winner’ they needed.

There have been some bumps along the way. Roma have just finished sixth in Serie A, which means Europa League, not Champions League, football next season.

This European campaign had its low moments. In the group stage, Roma for one chilly evening in Norway looked like fourth-tier imposters in the third-tier Conference League, losing 6-1 to Bodo-Glimt.

Mourinho had rested senior players; some of the understudies he had chosen in their places were publicly criticised by him, and he implied the club had not supported him in the transfer window. Yet Roma spent more than any other Italian club last summer.

A heavy slice of that spending went on Tammy Abraham, signed for €36m from Chelsea, a purchase that Mourinho approved. It proved a fine judgment.

Abraham, 24, has won the hearts of Roma fans and thrived in his first season abroad. He has 27 goals across competitions, many of them vital on the road to Tirana.

He struck the winner against Vitesse in the last-16 round, the equaliser against Bodo-Glimt when Roma met the Norwegians again in the knockout phase and trailed from the first leg, Abraham showing the way to an emphatic 4-0 victory in Rome. He was the match-winner in the semi-final against Leicester City.

“Finals like this are what you dream of as a kid growing up,” said Abraham ahead of the meeting with Feyenoord, easily resisting any idea that the Conference League is a lesser competition.

Updated: May 25, 2022, 2:50 AM
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