Sevilla are specialists in Europa League success. They have gone through Manchester United and Juventus to reach this year’s final. And yet Ivan Rakitic views beating Roma as an “even harder” assignment for one reason and one reason alone: Jose Mourinho, one of the top three coaches in the world, according to the Croatian.

“A great,” Rakitic told Tuttosport, “who has already won all of the European cups in his career… Mourinho is a truly special strategist, unique in every sense.”

No matter what you make of Mourinho and his methods, it’s impossible to disagree. He looked finished at the very highest level after his Spurs sacking, but his time at Tottenham has since been cast in a very different light by Antonio Conte’s subsequent struggles working under Daniel Levy – and, far more importantly, by his remarkable revival of Roma.

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Back-to-back European finals

When Mourinho arrived in the Italian capital in the summer of 2021 to great fanfare, the Giallorossi had one only one major European title – the 1960-61 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Now, they’re bidding for two in a row, after last season’s Europa Conference League final victory over Feyenoord.

It will remain a hugely impressive achievement, regardless of the result in Budapest, given the resources at his disposal at the Stadio Olimpico. As Mourinho quipped in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday, he had to explain the workings of a UEFA media day to his players this time last year.

“To be in two European finals back-to-back, normally only the big clubs with big history can do it,” the Setubal native told Sky Sport Italia. “And even then, it’s not easy. So, for us to do it now, it means a lot.”

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Injuries take their toll

Roma did spend a significant sum of money for a Serie A side immediately after his arrival – just under €100 million (£87m/$107m), €40m (£35m/$43m) of which went on Tammy Abraham – but they forked out just €7m (£6m/$7.5m) last summer, with their reliance on free transfers such as Paulo Dybala, Nemanja Matic and Andrea Belotti perfectly illustrating the restrictive nature of their budget.

Consequently, it has not come as too much of a surprise to see a squad once again competing on at least two fronts all season long start to unravel towards the end of another gruelling campaign.

A top-four finish was well within Roma’s grasp just over a month ago, but an injury-ravaged side has failed to win any of their past seven Serie A games, meaning a second successive sixth-placed finish now seems inevitable.

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‘Like Jesus taking a walk in the Vatican’

Plenty of pundits expected far more from the Giallorossi this term and some have argued that the European run has distracted attention away from underwhelming league results. However, Mourinho obviously doesn’t see it that way.

“I always try to be honest,” he insisted last week. “I don’t like selling smoke. I never said that Roma were a candidate to qualify for the Champions League. When you compete with the type of teams we have ahead of us, it would be irresponsible to do so.

“Qualifying for the Champions League after spending just €7m in the transfer market would not have been history, or even a miracle. It would have been like Jesus Christ coming to Rome and taking a walk in the Vatican!”

And yet progression to the Europa League final means that the impossible dream is now a distinct possibility, thanks a succession of characteristically defensive Mourinho masterclasses, and a Herculean effort on the part of an over-stretched squad.

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Crunch talks with Roma

Mourinho has repeatedly stated how proud he is of his players, incessantly hailing their strength of character for carrying them through tough times. However, his negative comments about the quality of the squad have obviously not gone over particularly well with those responsible for its construction.

Indeed, there have been rumours for months now that club president Dan Friedkin and sporting director Tiago Pinto have grown weary of Mourinho’s constant complaints, as well as his dreadful disciplinary record, which has resulted in touchline bans that have hurt the team.

According to the Gazzetta dello Sport, no matter what happens in Hungary, all three parties will meet after the end of the season to assess the situation – Mourinho would understandably seek a deeper pool of players if Champions League qualification is secured – while also working out how to proceed together, or whether there is still a desire to even do so.

Tellingly, while Mourinho still has a year left on his contract, he’s been linked with a variety of clubs in recent months, including former clubs Chelsea and Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, and even Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr.

The players are, therefore, nervous – both Lorenzo Pellegrini and Gianluca Mancini have already privately sought assurances from their boss over his future – but the hope is that the upcoming talks will lead to an amicable accord that will see the two-time Champions League winner remain at the Olimpico.

The supporters are obviously desperate for him to stay, as is club legend Francesco Totti, who basically intimated that he if he were in charge, it would be “easier” to convince Mourinho to at least stay for another season. But there are no guarantees at this stage, only a growing fear among the fans that ‘The Special One’ will bid a tearful – but hopefully triumphant – farewell on Wednesday night.

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‘Roma and I will be linked forever’

That’s because Mourinho is – almost inevitably and somewhat fittingly – suspended for his side’s final Serie A outing of the season, against Spezia at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday. So, the Europa League final could actually be his last game on the Roma bench, and it would not come as a shock to see him make a hasty exit if he does decide to part company with the club.

Remember, when he won the treble with Inter in 2010, he didn’t even return to Milan after their Champions League final win over Bayern Munich at Santiago Bernabeu, because he feared the celebrations would have prompted him to reverse his decision to leave for Real Madrid. “I chose to escape from emotions,” he later explained. There appears little chance of him escaping from his emotions if Roma win on Wednesday night, though.

He has formed a deep bond with his players, and the fans. When pressed on his future ahead of the final, he insisted that he was “only thinking about how to win it. Then, however it ends, Roma and I will be linked forever.”

And there is simply no disputing that claim. As he pointed out himself recently, the only club with which he does not enjoy a strong connection is Spurs.

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‘I’m still giving everything’

In that context, then, his spell at the Stadio Olimpico could not be construed as anything but a success, even if he does depart this summer. This has been classic Mourinho right from the start. He fired up a fanbase and then he delivered a trophy.

There are those that continue to, justifiably, question the quality of the football. Roma are often a tough team to watch. They are not as “sh*t” as former forward Antonio Cassano makes out, but the negativity of their play has upset several opponents.

Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Kerem Demirbay deemed it “a shame” that such “ugly” tactics can be rewarded with victories, while Feyenoord coach Arne Slot acknowledged that while Roma’s style of play “achieves results”, he prefers watching more expansive football, prompting allegations of disrespect from Mourinho, who reportedly shouted “Go watch Napoli” at the Dutchman after their Europa League clash at the Olimpico.

At the end of the day, Mourinho is once again on the verge of making more history and, as he has pointed out himself, “History cannot be deleted.” His win-at-all-costs mentality has earned him five European trophies, and if he claims a sixth on Wednesday night, he can point to his latest winners’ medal – or even the renewed interest in his services – as evidence that his reputation as one of the top three coaches in the world has been restored.

Obviously, we don’t yet know where he’ll be next season. It’s impossible to say at this point. But what we can say for sure is that Mourinho is far from finished at the highest level. His methods clearly aren’t outdated and what he calls his “human” approach to man-management is still reaping rewards. Perhaps even more importantly, there is still a fire burning inside him to prove everyone wrong.

“I’m still giving everything,” he told Sky. “Maybe people think I’m older than I am. Maybe they look at my white hair and they think I’m really old, but I’m not so old that I want to think to close the circle. No, no, you are going to still have me for many, many years to come.” — Goal

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