Stockholm: Mourinho accepts Europa final’s make-or-break billing
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho accepts the club’s season will be judged a failure if they do not beat Ajax in the Europa League final on May 24.
Mourinho says he has worked “harder than ever” during his maiden United campaign, which has already featured a League Cup triumph and victory over Leicester City in the Community Shield.
But with United needing to beat Ajax to secure a place in next season’s Champions League, he knows he will not be spared by the media if his side succumb to defeat at Stockholm’s Friends Arena.
“I think you, the media, have the right to say (that) and I think it makes sense to say,” he told reporters after United completed a 2-1 aggregate win over Celta Vigo in the semi-finals on Thursday.
“But I don’t feel like that. I don’t want the players to feel like that. I don’t think the board feels like that. Because we work very hard. I probably worked this season harder than ever.
“In my personal analysis, I don’t think that way. But if I was on your side, in your chair, I think it is (fair).”
He added: “We won a League Cup. We won the Community Shield. Until the injuries arrived, we fought for the Premier League top four. We had a fantastic record of 25 matches (unbeaten).
“We did things that nobody did in this club in the first season, like winning a trophy, like having the Manchester United record in the Premier League for unbeaten games, like reaching a European final. We had good things.
“But if I was on your side and you are always looking for this kind of capital-letters big headlines, I accept if you say that.”
Mourinho said trying to restore United to former glories, after three largely disappointing seasons following the retirement of Alex Ferguson, had involved significant unseen work behind the scenes.
Asked what had made it such a tough season, he replied: “The players and the club.
“Sometimes you get into big clubs in difficult moments and the work is harder than when you get a smaller club in a moment of positive explosion.
“Very hard season. Some invisible work to your eyes. But when I analyse my work, I analyse it in the globality because better than anyone, I know what I did. I know what I had to do.
“But again, I accept that to your eyes are the football results that make that decision and I’m ready for that.”
– Romero to start final –
United centre-back Eric Bailly was sent off during Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Celta and Mourinho said the unlikelihood of lauching a successful appeal meant he was resigned to being without the Ivorian for the final.
One player guaranteed to start in Stockholm, if fit, is Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
Romero has deputised for usual number one David de Gea in the Europa League, playing 11 games to the Spaniard’s three, and Mourinho said there was “no dilemma” about who will start between the posts against Ajax.
“They are two fantastic goalkeepers. I never saw in all my career two goalkeepers to be such friends,” said Mourinho, whose sixth-place side visit Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League on Sunday.
“Because it’s a position where you have always a little bit of rivalry, especially if you are both the same kind of level.
“We are speaking about Argentina’s national goalkeeper and Spain’s national goalkeeper.
“They are so friends and they support each other all the time. I never saw a bad face. I always saw them supporting each other.
“I think it’s fair that Sergio is going to play the final and David accepts that, especially because he’s already played Europa League matches and if we win the trophy, David wins the trophy.
“If everything goes normal and we have no problems, Sergio plays the final.”Punch