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Jose Mourinho is at it again: winning trophies and upsetting people

AS Roma Manager Jose Mourinho kisses the trophy following his teams victory at the end of the UEFA Conference League final - Getty Images/Chris Brunskill
AS Roma Manager Jose Mourinho kisses the trophy following his teams victory at the end of the UEFA Conference League final - Getty Images/Chris Brunskill

Twenty years now since a Uefa Cup final in Seville in which the victorious Porto side rewrote the book on tactical time-wasting - from extensive treatment on injuries that mysteriously cleared up, to goal celebrations that seemed to go on forever.

The opposing manager Martin O’Neill would later say of the time it took to treat Vitor Baia that he was surprised a helicopter was not called to fly the goalkeeper to hospital. The defender Jorge Costa was alleged to have hit the Celtic goalkeeper coach. The Celtic fans chanted that Porto were cheats as they went to get the trophy. “You know the way people get to a certain age and say ‘Listen, I wouldn’t change a thing’. Well, there’s lots of things I would change,” O’Neill said recently. “First of all, the Uefa Cup final of 2003.”

Jose Mourinho, on the other hand, was very happy with the way it went. The young Porto manager’s career was on an extraordinary upwards trajectory. All systems Jose.

Two decades later, he is back at the same place. The Uefa Cup final is now the Europa League final. The 2003 Porto, who would shock Europe by winning the Champions League 12 months later, are a skint 2023 Roma. They sold one of their best players to Galatasaray this season, but only because Nicolo Zaniolo did not fancy Bournemouth. Mourinho won the Europa Conference League last season and at 60 he is gloriously at it again. Winning trophies and upsetting people.

Jose Mourinho - Jose Mourinho is at it again: winning trophies and upsetting people - AP/Martin Meissner
Jose Mourinho - Jose Mourinho is at it again: winning trophies and upsetting people - AP/Martin Meissner

At Roma he has the power. At the Trigoria training ground, he is the biggest name in the building and his word is the law. If he says a player’s Roma career is over, the club falls into line. In the case of the Dutch full-back Rick Karsdorp, there has been a reprieve – but only on Mourinho’s terms.

Tactically he still goes uber-Jose when required. The goalless draw in the Europa League semi-final on Thursday night, defending a one-goal lead from the first leg, was sensational in its negativity. Roma had no attempts on target, and only one off-target, as opposed to 23 from Bayer Leverkusen. Less than 29 per cent possession. An xG of 0.03. That, as Mourinho would doubtless say, is football ‘eritage.

The question now, as his hair goes snowy white, and his stubbornness endures, is: where next? His dance with the possibility of the manager’s job at Paris Saint-Germain will be a fascinating end to the season. Of course, Mourinho must feel the pull of being at a club that is capable of punching others in the face for players, prestige, trophies. Yet for all Roma’s unsuitability for doing that, they have a strange compatibility with Mourinho.

Roma has reminded us of something else too: Mourinho can make something of whatever raw materials are presented to him. As long as all involved are prepared to subject themselves to pure Jose-ism. It might not always be fun, but it does work.

Roma’s US owners spent around €1 billion in the first three years on the acquisition of the club, investment and the salary of Mourinho and his technical team. Having done so they switched to a strategy of cheap – or free – signings and development players. Indeed, it was a goal from Edoardo Bove, 21, Rome-born and club-developed, that decided the semi-final. He started both legs and others like Ebrima Darboe, 21; Cristian Volpato, 19; and Benjamin Tahirovic, 20, have played games this season.

Post-victory, Mourinho said that no club had reached a European final spending as little as Roma had on transfer fees. He quoted €7 million although the figure is close to €9 million, with €7 million on the very decent Mehmet Celik from Lille. Kudos to the sporting director Tiago Pinto in whom a number of Premier League clubs are taking a keen interest.

It is far from perfect. Roma are sixth in the league and lost both games to local rivals Lazio, who are in fourth and six points better off at the start of the weekend. Roma have lost twice to Cremonese. They do not score many goals and Tammy Abraham is among those not scoring. But as he did with Manchester United in 2015-2016, Mourinho has compensated for failings in the league by grinding out the Europa League and pursuing the Champions League place it offers.

At a club like United, with decades of success, Mourinho proved a bitter pill. At Spurs, with decades of believing they might be successful, that was equally hard. But at Roma there is a logic to it.

This is an intensely local, big club. Rome media directs fierce scrutiny on the team and specifically its local lads and then the Italian contingent in general. Those close to the club say Mourinho is unperturbed. Also, by making everything about him, or the referees, or the authorities, or other clubs, he diverts the gaze from his players. He has always been good at that.

Against Feyenoord in the Europa League quarter-final second leg, Mourinho’s latest hyperactive assistant, Salvatore Foti, was sent off for grabbing at the opposition player Santiago Gimenez. It was very poor behaviour – and an easy decision for Anthony Taylor. Would Mourinho endorse that kind of misconduct as a way of intimidating officials and opponents? Perish the thought.

Jose Mourinho’s assistant, Salvatore Foti, was sent off for this incident - UK Sports Pics Ltd/Giuseppe Maffia
Jose Mourinho’s assistant, Salvatore Foti, was sent off for this incident - UK Sports Pics Ltd/Giuseppe Maffia

For the most part, the doctrine of Jose dictates that every inch that can be taken, must be taken. Every angle worked. Every one-goal lead locked down. Other clubs thought they wanted the full Jose, only to recoil when they realised what that really meant. Roma have stayed the course, and for now at least it seems to suit both parties.