ROME ( Associated Press) — Hinting at the touchline in a black vest and a gray hooded sweatshirt, Jose Mourinho could easily be mistaken for one of the 70,000 fans inside the Stadio Olimpico.
The outspoken Portuguese coach told Roma supporters ahead of the Europa Conference League semi-finals that they should come to the stadium not just to “watch the game” but to “play” it.
Well, fans did their bit by creating a loud, suffocating atmosphere for 90 minutes, and Mourinho did his job as Roma sealed a 1-0 win over Leicester (2-1 on aggregate) on Thursday and a place in the final.
“It’s a family victory,” said Mourinho, “not only who was there on the pitch and on the bench but also inside the stadium. That’s our biggest achievement, it’s the sympathy and the sense of family we’ve built up with the fans.” “
It will mark the fifth European final of Mourinho’s career – and he has won all four over the span of nearly two decades he has coached so far: the 2003 UEFA Cup and the 2004 Champions League final with Porto; 2010 Champions League final with Inter Milan; and the 2017 Europa League final with Manchester United.
“I have had the privilege of playing in an even bigger and more prestigious final,” said Mourinho. “But the way we have created a family atmosphere here, it makes me feel special.
“Over the years I’ve become less cocky and more like a father.”
Mourinho is already the first coach to reach a UEFA final with four different clubs (Porto, Inter, United and Roma).
“Every club I’ve coached, I’ve made the finals,” Mourinho said. “This is good thing.”
What’s more, if Mourinho can coach Roma to victory over Feyenoord in Tirana, Albania on May 25, he will become only the third coach to win three different UEFA competitions, after Giovanni Trapatoni and Udo Latek – who Both won the European Cup. , UEFA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup.
It was a typical Mourinho match: Roma took the lead in the first half via a Tammy Abraham header, then barely Gialrossi packed and defended in the second half.
It might not be pretty – Mourinho’s teams rarely are – but the strategy worked.
“I think our performance was exceptional,” Mourinho said. “Others may see it differently, but when your goalkeeper saves twice for more than 120 minutes for a Premier League side, it means we’ve done something good.”
While Roma are fifth in Serie A and have missed out on Champions League places, the inaugural edition of the third-tier conference league has already succeeded Mourinho’s first season at Roma.
That’s a considerable change from a little more than a year ago, when Mourinho’s career appeared to be in a downward spiral. He lost his job at Tottenham after dressing-room apathy and growing disillusionment with his strategy.
Nearing the age of 60, Mourinho has shown that he is willing to wait while attempting to make Roma a contender.,
Abraham, the 24-year-old forward, whom Mourinho persuaded Roma to spend 40 million euros ($44 million) in August, has been decisive throughout the season. His nine goals in the Conference League placed him third among English players in a season of European competition, behind Alan Shearer (11 in the 2004–05 UEFA Cup) and Stan Bowles (11 in the 1976–77 UEFA Cup).
“We have a coach who knows how to win. But it has been a development process,” said Roma defender Gianluca Mancini. “It’s not just because you have Mourinho on the bench that you win immediately.”
This will be Roma’s first European final since losing the 1991 UEFA Cup trophy to home rivals Inter Milan. Roma also lost their only other continental final in the 1984 European Cup after a penalty shootout at their home stadium against Liverpool.
Former Roma player and coach Claudio Ranieri, who grew up supporting the club at Testacio’s Rome slaughterhouse, certainly remembers those losses.
During the 53rd minute, when an image of Ranieri was shown on giant screens at each end of the stadium, both Roma and Leicester fans clapped together – so much so that after initially going back to match coverage, Ranieri was again in a second. Time appeared on the screen and he stood up and waved in acknowledgment.
Ranieri is, of course, best known for coaching Leicester to an impossible Premier League title in 2016.
However, this night was more about Mourinho, who shed tears at the final whistle.
“It is a huge club without trophy room in relation to the social dimension of the club,” said Mourinho. “It’s not a trophy, it’s only a final, but it means a lot to him. My feeling was for him.”
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