Mourinho tears like droplets of fine wine to UEFA in big win for Europa Conference League

Will Ford
Mourinho Roma

Jose Mourinho loved it, but perhaps not as much Aleksander Ceferin, for whom big manager tears will have tasted like fine wine in the Europa Conference League’s inaugural year.

 

Roma reached their first European final since 1991 on Thursday, as Tammy Abraham’s header secured a 2-1 aggregate win over Leicester in the Europa League Conference semi-final. It was an emotional night for the players, fans and manager Jose Mourinho, whose visible delight at the final whistle will have furthered his reverence in the eyes of the Giallorossi, but will also serve as a significant shot in the arm for UEFA and Aleksander Ceferin, who will have been drinking in the manager’s tears as though they were droplets of the finest Bordeaux.

At the unveiling of the new competition at the start of this season, Ceferin said: “The new UEFA club competition makes UEFA’s club competitions more inclusive than ever before. There will be more matches for more clubs, with more associations represented in the group stages. To give clubs and fans the chance to dream and compete for European honours.”

Cue eyerolling from the cynics who didn’t ask for or want another European knockout and saw through the UEFA officials’ flagrant attempt to line their own pockets. If the Europa League was the sh*t on the Champions League shoe, the Europa Conference League was the bit of pavement you scrape that sh*t onto. The only bugbear for the elitists in England – where the Big Six fans control the narrative – was that this lowly excuse for a competition didn’t have it’s own night of the week, though “Friday nights, BT Sport 7” isn’t the catchiest of chants.

Brendan Rodgers, whose Leicester side were defeated by Mourinho’s Roma on Thursday, added fuel to the mockery fire by admitting, almost proudly, that “I don’t even know what the competition is” after the Foxes were demoted from the Europa League back in December. And relegation continues to be a problem for the perception of those competitions compared to the superior alternatives, in a ‘we messed up our chances of winning something we actually want, this other thing is a ball-ache’ kind of way.

Using ‘Conference’ in the name didn’t exactly scream quality to English folk either, instead drumming up images of muddy, uneven pitches, overweight target men and fags at half-time. UEFA will have been desperate for a moment – of jeopardy, joy or controversy – in the inaugural campaign to get the public onside; they got it on Thursday.

Mourinho, at his watchable best on the touchline throughout in a raucous Stadio Olimpico, with emotion written plain across his face with seconds to go before the final whistle, walked away from the pitch towards his bench as if he was a 1930s housewife watching their husband head for the front line by steam train, before breaking down and embracing his fellow coaches. It was vintage Mourinho – pure, unadulterated passion.

“I shed a tear because my emotion was for everyone who loves this club. This is a giant club without the trophy room in relation to the dimension of the club.”

There was no reference to this being a stepping stone to greater things, or any indication to the Europa League Conference being some sort of booby prize. This was one of the great managers of a generation, who’s won everything possible, including both superior European competitions, being genuinely delighted at leading his team to the final.

It was a big win for Mourinho, whose infectious passion lives on. It was a huge win for Roma, who have a chance to win their first European gong and don’t care about its shape or lack of ears. And it was a massive win for UEFA and Ceferin, who got their first big meme-worthy, shareable moment to put the naysayers in their place. It’s important to Mourinho, so why isn’t it important to you?