One man’s love for Europe’s second most prestigious knockout competition

Jacob Steinberg
José Mourinho: Euro Vase fan. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

Livin’ the dream

A lot has changed since the summer of 2013. David Moyes is no longer regarded as one of the great visionaries of English football, Manchester United have accidentally knocked themselves off their perch after failing to notice that Ed Woodward had tied their shoelaces together and José Mourinho has unlocked a previously unseen passion for all things Euro Vase. Of course, that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when Mourinho regarded it with the contempt he usually reserves for Luke Shaw, Arsène Wenger or the concept of entertainment. He began his second spell at Chelsea, after all, by leaving a foot in on his Euro Vase-winning predecessor and close acquaintance, Rafa Benítez, by revealing that the competition was so far below his standards that he’d rather win an all-expenses paid camping trip to Slough with the Fiver than experience any kind of success in it.

But Mourinho has changed his tune of late. Whereas Frasier Crane, despite his best intentions, was unable to find anything positive to say about that bull painting given to him by his dad, Mourinho has furrowed his brow, stroked his chin, had a long, hard look at Euro Vase and learned to appreciate its many hidden depths, in the same way the Fiver manages to look on the bright side and appreciate the inner beauty of the Ginsters steak slice it lovingly puts in the microwave every evening.

Suddenly nothing is more important, which is why Mourinho was sporting a giant “JOSÉ AND EURO VASE FOR LIFE” foam hand as he spoke to the press before the second leg of United’s quarter-final against Anderlecht this evening. What could be better than reaching the final in Stockholm on 24 May, after all? “It will be the perfect end to the season,” Mourinho said. “Trying to finish the season playing a European final. It will be the perfect finale for Manchester United.”

And United are in with a fine chance of going all the way. They’ve just given champions-elect Chelsea a damn good thrashing, they’re in a promising position after drawing 1-1 at Anderlecht last week and they boast a 100% home record in Europe this season, having already seen off the might of FC Zorya, Feyernoord, Fenerbahce, Nice, FC Rostov and a Fiver Select XI. Get past these formidable Belgian opponents and European glory will be within touching distance for United.

Sure, it could be pointed out that an alternative perfect finale for one of the richest clubs in the world would be challenging for the Premier League title, reaching the latter stages of Big Cup or even just finishing in the top four. But you’d have to be a cynic to suggest that the only reason Mourinho’s interested is because his team have made such a pig’s ear of trying to qualify for Big Cup on the domestic front that he’s the hot favourite to win the Theresa May Award for Most Egregious U-Turn Of The Year. No, this is purely about one man’s pure, undying love for Europe’s second most prestigious knockout competition – no more, no less. How could you even begin to doubt him?

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Join Jacob Steinberg from 8.05pm BST for hot MBM coverage of Manchester United 3-0 Anderlecht (agg: 4-1).

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“He looks really healthy but he can’t play football” – Jürgen Klopp gets a bit careless with his phrasing on Jordan Henderson.

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FIVER LETTERS

“Can I just add to the Fiver’s north/south divide debate, that the mighty Sheffield United have won League One with games to spare, and we didn’t get a full article (or if we did, then I didn’t read it). It’s not our fault that we’re comparatively financially responsible and haven’t been in administration, nor played so poorly we ended up on the brink of relegation from League Two. It’s discrimination I tell thee! It’s no mean feat officially becoming the 45th best team in the English football league structure, so let’s have some credit please Mr Fiver?” – Dan Makeham.

Happy Dan? Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

“In response to Peter Berlin: What does the travel time to Derby have to do with reaching the north from London – Derby is located in the Midlands” – Carl Harvey.

“Regarding Craig McLaughlin’s criticism of ‘lasagna’ [yesterday’s Fiver letters]: I would assume that La Cinque would think of that kind of spelling that Conte is putting the Chelsea squad on some kind of extreme diet, given that lasagna would indicate one sheet of pasta. I can think of one or two players that might benefit from that, but they don’t play for Chelsea” – Marisa Cardoni.

“Wednesday’s Fiver was a bit quick to dismiss Nottingham Forest as ‘second-tier mediocrities’. Anyone who’s had more than a cursory glance in the direction of the Tricky Trees (I work near their ground) knows that ‘imminent third-tier omnishambles’ is far more accurate” – Ed Taylor.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And if you’ve nothing better to do you can also tweet The Fiver. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Dan Makeham.

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BITS AND BOBS

In a stunning development, the teams at the top of each division supply the overwhelming majority of players in the divisional PFA teams of the year. It’s wall-to-wall Chelsea and Spurs in the Premier League one, with the odd splash of Merseyside and Manchester.

Endless transfer speculation’s Joe Hart is not on Jürgen Klopp’s radar despite appearing to be nudged gently in the direction of the shop window once again. The Liverpool manager has ruled out a move for the on-loan Torino keeper. “He is a fantastic goalkeeper, the goalkeeper of the English national team,” Klopp faint-praised, “but we have the highest-quality goalkeepers. It is not for us in this moment and hopefully not in the future.”

Liverpool are rather keener on keeping hold of Emre Can as the midfielder enters the final year of his contract.

Arsène Wenger has spoken of his sadness at seeing Jack Wilshere’s career impeded by his near-permanent state of knack. “I’m sad about this injury because Jack is a great player with a great football brain,” the Arsenal boss lamented of the midfielder who has been ruled out for the season with a broken fibula. “His career has been stopped by many injuries. At the top level the most important thing is consistency.”

Arsène Wenger shoots the breeze. Photograph: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

José Mourinho has wagged his finger at Anthony Martial before pointing approvingly at Marcus Rashford in his latest schoolmasterly exhortation to one of his players to improve. “Do I think Anthony is a player with great potential? Yes, I think. Do I think he can play successfully for me? Yes, I think. But he needs to give me things that I like,” purred Mourinho.

STILL WANT MORE?

Floating brain in a jar Jonathan Wilson uses the phrase juego de posición in taking a tactical look at the Chelsea v Tottenham FA Cup semi-final.

Tony Adams, Roy Hodgson, Mick McCarthy and John Sitton … it’s this week’s Classic YouTube!

The Joy of Six: happy endings in sport, featuring Eric Cantona.

Cristiano Ronaldo has done so much for Real Madrid – so why do some fans whistle him? Sid Lowe knows why.

Who will win the Europa League? Martin Laurence looks at the chances of the eight quarter-finalists.

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!

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