Jose Mourinho, renowned for his exceptional European record, faces a crucial test as he leads Roma against Sevilla in the Europa League final on Wednesday. This encounter offers Mourinho the opportunity to secure his second consecutive continental cup victory. Throughout his illustrious career, the 60-year-old coaching icon has never tasted defeat in a European final. With an impeccable record of five wins from five appearances over the course of two decades, he stands as the first manager to achieve the remarkable feat of reaching a UEFA final with four different clubs. Mourinho's initial breakthrough on the grand stage occurred in 2003, when he guided Porto to victory in the UEFA Cup, the precursor to the Europa League. The following year, he went on to claim his first of two Champions League titles.
Mourinho finding his mojo
Now, after two decades, Mourinho finds himself on the brink of adding a sixth European trophy to his collection at Roma, a club that experienced success in last year's Europa Conference League. The Italian capital has proven to be a welcoming environment for the esteemed coach, especially considering his underwhelming stint at Tottenham Hotspur, which had raised doubts about his future in the sport.
"Better coach, better person, same DNA. The DNA is motivation, is happiness. Desire for these big moments, and these are the feelings that I try to pass to the boys," Mourinho told reporters on Thursday.
"I think you can be better and better with your experiences... I think your brain becomes sharper and the accumulation of knowledge is better with the years.
"I think you stop when you lose motivation, my motivation grows up every day... I think I am better now."
Becoming one with the Roma fans
Mourinho has earned the status of a true hero among the Roma faithful. Their admiration stems from his remarkable achievement in securing the team's inaugural major European title in the previous season, a moment that brought the seasoned Portuguese coach to tears. This victory holds great significance, as it marked the end of a lengthy wait for the supporters who had patiently anticipated a trophy celebration since 2008.
This emotional bond between Mourinho and the fans resonates deeply, drawing parallels to his passionate and unforgettable tenure at Inter Milan. Thirteen years ago, during his prime, Mourinho experienced an intense and short-lived love affair with the club. It was during this period that he led Inter Milan to an extraordinary treble, conquering Serie A, the Champions League, and the Italian Cup. The memories of that triumphant era continue to evoke a sense of nostalgia and reverence among football enthusiasts.
"It's because I give everything... People aren't stupid. In the Roma case I think it is above winning or European finals. I think they feel like I wore the shirt and I fight for them every day," said Mourinho.
"Maybe people think you cannot love every club. Yes, I love every club. I love every club because I also felt it the other way around, they also love me. So with Roma, one day it will be hard but we will be connected forever."
Dybala a major doubt
It is highly unlikely that Paulo Dybala, the talented but injury-prone star of Roma, will be included in the starting line-up. Dybala has been plagued by ankle issues ever since enduring a brutal tackle from Jose Palomino of Atalanta a month ago. Currently, Dybala's hope is to at least secure a spot on the bench for the upcoming match.
"I don't think so, honestly, I don't think so," said Mourinho when asked if there was any chance Dybala could start.
"However, if I'm speaking honestly I hope that he can be on the bench. If Paulo can be on the bench and give me 15 minutes of effort, I would be happy."
One final hurrah?
There is significant uncertainty surrounding Mourinho's future beyond the current season, as Wednesday's final may mark his final significant contribution as the coach of Roma.
If he were to depart after two years, potentially after securing a European trophy, it would bear a resemblance to his exit from Inter in 2010. On that occasion, Mourinho swiftly transitioned to Real Madrid shortly after lifting the Champions League trophy in the Spanish capital.
"The only thing I'm focussed on is the final. I'm not thinking about my future or anything else. Everything else becomes secondary when you have a final to play," said Mourinho.
"I'm not thinking about myself, I'm thinking about the players and the supporters... we want to play, and Wednesday we will be there."