After Man United’s loss to Sevilla this week, Jose Mourinho made a number of strange comments, one of which was to refer to the two occasions on which he has masterminded an aggregate Champions League victory over Man United, courtesy of a successful second leg result at Old Trafford.
His main point was, probably, to deflect scrutiny of the part in which he played in the club’s unexpected loss, and instead direct critics to focus on some of his previous personal accomplishments which did indeed include wins against Man United when managing Porto in 2004, and Real Madrid in 2013.
What Mourinho didn’t refer to was that alongside past triumphs on what is now his home ground, he also has prior experience of sitting in the Old Trafford press room to face questions after a European exit.
Assigned as Inter Milan’s head coach in 2008, Mourinho was tasked primarily with improving on Roberto Mancini’s disappointing record in the Champions League.
Conditions were perfect for him, in that a number of the biggest clubs in Italy were still in the process of recovering from punishments handed out following the Calciopoli scandal uncovered in 2006. Inter, after being retrospectively named as Serie A champions for the 2005/6 season, were enjoying a period with few serious challengers to their quest for domestic honours, and therefore well-placed to concentrate on European success.
Despite spending lavishly on his arrival at Inter, Mourinho’s first season returned no better an outcome in the Champions League than Mancini’s second round defeat to Liverpool a year earlier. A second round tie against Man United saw the Italian champions fortunate to escape with a 0-0 draw in a first leg dominated at the San Siro by the visitors, and Alex Ferguson’s team wrapped the tie up at Old Trafford with a 2-0 win.
Man United were, at the time, the defending champions, and went on to reach the final again that season. There could, therefore, hardly be a bigger contrast when comparing the two opponents responsible for handing Mourinho a Champions League defeat at Old Trafford.
In spite of their remarkable success in the Europa League, Sevilla have never previously made it past the last 16 of the Champions League, with the most recent of their two second round appearances occurring in last season’s competition, when they were eliminated by Leicester City.
Their form this season has been highly inconsistent, and although they are due to face Barcelona in the Spanish Cup final next month, Sevilla are currently 11 points adrift of La Liga’s top four, with any prospect of returning to the Champions League resting entirely on winning this season’s trophy.
Sevilla’s win over Man United was particularly surprising when considering that they had never before won away against an English side, and their only other away win in Europe this season came during a qualifier against Istanbul Basaksehir – achieved with a late winner by Wednesday night’s hero Wissam Ben Yedder. Sevilla were also the only team in the last 16 who failed to win a single away match during the group stage.
Mourinho’s post-match comments focused on the fact that being knocked out at home was not necessarily an unusual situation for Man United, and that the club has, all too often, been dumped out of Europe after a bad result on home soil.
But home form in Europe has also been a problem for Mourinho at his previous clubs, with four out of his last six European defeats being sealed on the basis of the result in the home leg.
At Real Madrid, the immense wealth of talent available to Mourinho wasn’t enough to avoid three successive semi final defeats, the first of which was against Barcelona, whose 2-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu dealt a decisive blow to Mourinho’s hopes of being the man to lead the club to a much sought-after tenth European Cup – or La Decima.
The subsequent two seasons saw Real Madrid fail in their tasks to overturn first leg deficits suffered in Germany against Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich respectively.
Within a year of Jose Mourinho leaving Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti triumphed where his predecessor was unable to. Real Madrid have since added two further European cups.
It had been a similar story with Chelsea, who lost two semi finals under Mourinho, but went on to reach a first Champions League final less than a year after his first departure from the club, and then won two European trophies before he returned in 2013.
In terms of European achievements, his second spell at Chelsea was even less successful and there was to be no further silverware, with Chelsea crashing out in front of their own fans in each of Mourinho’s two full seasons back at the club. Both campaigns ended in disappointment despite having earned encouraging first leg draws away from home, with Paris Saint-Germain securing an away goals victory in 2015, and a year earlier, Atletico Madrid won comfortably at Stamford Bridge in the second leg of their semi final, with Real Madrid awaiting the winners.
For all of Mourinho’s success in Europe, there will now be a gap of at least nine years without a win in European football’s biggest competition, and it’s unsurprising that some critics consider Mourinho to no longer be an effective coach when facing the continent’s elite.
But while Mourinho’s record over an increasing number of years is one of failure to deliver with clubs who have backed him with strong squads and extraordinary amounts of money, he remains a coach with an unrivalled ability to win trophies.
If the Portuguese wishes to refer to historical results, the best frame of reference would be his second season at Inter, when the English and Spanish champions were among the teams knocked out during a campaign which concluded with Mourinho guiding a team to Champions League glory for the second time in his career. Inter’s 2010 win remains the only time in 11 years that an Italian club have been European Champions.
Mourinho’s overly-defensive tactics may well be seen as the primary reason for Man United’s departure from this season’s competition, but to completely write him off is a dangerous game for any journalist or pundit.
For Jose Mourinho loves nothing more than proving his critics wrong and has often used criticism as a way to motivate his teams. And having been extremely effective at answering his detractors on so many occasions, it’d be foolish to think that Man United won’t return much stronger next season.