Old Trafford chief might miss the top four but says adding Europa League to the EFL Cup would make season a success
SO Manchester United are into another final — hoping to lift a third piece of silverware under Jose Mourinho.
With that will come entry into the Champions League.
But the question some fans cannot get their head around is whether even victory over Ajax in the Europa League final will make this a successful season?
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Taking the Premier League table as a barometer, you would say not.
Yet the sight of the old Uefa Cup sitting next to the EFL Cup and Community Shield on the team picture next pre-season would suggest that Mourinho has steadied the ship and begun to steer it in the right direction.
Mourinho claims that getting United back on the road to glory has proved tougher than anything he faced at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan or Real Madrid. He said: “I’ve probably worked harder this season than ever.”
Asked why, he added: “The players and the club.
“Sometimes you get to big clubs in difficult moments and the work is harder than at a smaller club in a moment of positive explosion. It has been a very hard season. Some of the work has been invisible to your eyes.
“But when I analyse my work, I analyse my work in the globality because better than anyone I know what I did, I know what I had to do.”
Indeed, analyse his career and you can appreciate what he is saying.
His start at Porto was almost under the radar as he took over a side fifth in the Portuguese league, won the title the following season and the Champions League after that.
At Chelsea, he inherited a team which Claudio Ranieri had taken to runners-up spot in the Premier League and a Champions League semi-final.
Inter had just won three consecutive titles under Roberto Mancini when he arrived.
Real Madrid had finished runners-up to Barcelona under Manuel Pellegrini with what was then a record number of points for the club in one season with 96 to Barca’s 99.
Mourinho then returned to Chelsea where Rafa Benitez had just put the Europa League on the sideboard a season after Roberto Di Matteo landed the Champions League.
Coming into United it was very different.
They might have just won the FA Cup but such was the unease among the supporters that they booed Louis van Gaal as he went up the steps at Wembley to take his turn at lifting the trophy.
They had finished fifth in the league and Old Trafford was a very unhappy place given the awful football dished up.
As Mourinho said earlier in the season he ‘found a sad club’. He has changed that.
The reaction to him as he celebrated in front of the Stretford End on Thursday night showed how much the fans have taken to him.
They had just survived a late scare to draw 1-1 with Celta Vigo to reach the Europa League final on May 24. Mourinho points out that he has achieved more than any other United manager in his first season at the club.
Silverware, another shot at glory to come, and while the Prem campaign may have been a let-down, he can point to a club-record 25-game unbeaten league run in a single season.
Mourinho added: “We won a League Cup. We won a Community Shield. The injuries arrived, we fought for the Premier League top four. We had a fantastic record of 25 matches.
“We did things in this club that nobody did in the first season. Like winning a trophy, like having the unbeaten record of Manchester United in the Premier League.
“Like reaching a European final. We have these things.”
It is still far from the football under Sir Alex Ferguson’s great teams but at least the supporters sing ‘Jose’s playing the way that United should’.
Should he deliver more silverware in Stockholm, there will be celebrations.
Celebrations you simply do not see for finishing fourth.