Jose Mourinho said a “sense of family” between his AS Roma club and their supporters was the biggest reason they reached the final of the Europa Conference League.
The outspoken Portuguese coach told Roma supporters ahead of their 1-0 semifinal, second leg win over Leicester City that they shouldn’t come to the stadium just “to watch” the game, but rather “to play” it.
The fans did their job, creating a suffocating atmosphere for 90 minutes and Mourinho did his by helping his Roma side complete a 2-1 aggregate victory against their Premier League opposition.
“It’s a victory of a family,” Mourinho said, “Not just the one that was on the pitch and on the bench, but also inside the stadium. That is our greatest achievement, this empathy and sense of family we have created with the fans.”
Roma will now face Eredivisie side Feyenoord in the decider on May 25 in Albania, with Mourinho becoming the first coach to take four different teams to a European final having done so with Porto twice, Inter Milan and Manchester United.
In all, this will be the former Chelsea manager’s fifth European finals appearance over the span of two decades, having won the previous four: the 2003 UEFA Cup and 2004 Champions League finals with Porto, the 2010 Champions League final with Inter, and the 2017 Europa League final with Man United.
“I’ve had the fortune to play in bigger and more prestigious finals than this one,” Mourinho said. “But in terms of the way we’ve created a family atmosphere here, it makes me feel special.
“Over the years I’ve become less egocentric and more like a father,” Mourinho said. “Every club that I coached I made a final. That’s good.”
If Roma beat Feyenoord in the final, Mourinho would become only the third coach to win three different UEFA competitions after Giovanni Trapattoni and Udo Lattek, who both won the European Cup, UEFA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup.
In a typically managed Mourinho match, Roma took the lead through a Tammy Abraham header in the first half then just barely held on as the Giallorossi packed in and defended throughout the second half. And the tactics worked.
“I think our performance was extraordinary,” Mourinho said. “Others might see it differently, but when your goalkeeper makes two saves over 120 minutes against a Premier League side with so much attacking quality, it means we’ve done something good.”
While Roma are in fifth place in Serie A and have missed out on the Champions League places, the inaugural edition of the third-tier Conference League has already made Mourinho’s first season at Roma successful.
It’s quite a turnaround from little more than a year ago, when Mourinho’s career appeared in a downward spiral after dressing-room apathy and growing disillusionment at his tactics cost him his job at Tottenham Hotspur.
Mourinho, 59, has shown that he’s willing to wait while he attempts to build Roma into a contender.
Abraham, the 24-year-old forward whom Mourinho convinced Roma to spend €40 million ($44 million) on in August, has been decisive all season. His nine goals in the Conference League place him third all time among English players in a single season of European competition after 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’s been a growth process,” Roma defender Gianluca Mancini said. “It’s not like just because you have Mourinho on the bench you win right away.”
It will be Roma’s first European final since losing the 1991 UEFA Cup trophy to domestic rival Inter. Roma also lost their only other continental final, after a penalty shootout against Liverpool in the 1984 European Cup at their home stadium.
Thursday night, however, was more about Mourinho, who shed tears at the final whistle.
“This is a giant club without the trophy room in relation to the social dimension of the club,” Mourinho said. “This is not a trophy, it’s only a final, but it means a lot to them. My emotion was for them.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.