- Mourinho insists board happy with his achievements in first season at club
- He accepts outside criticism will come if United lose Europa League final
José Mourinho believes Manchester United’s board would not view the season as a failure if the Europa League is not claimed but the manager would understand if this was the judgement from outside the club.
United reached the final after Thursday’s semi-final second leg 1-1 draw with Celta Vigo at Old Trafford, winning the tie 2-1 on aggregate. If United defeat Ajax in Stockholm on 24 May they will add the one major trophy that has eluded them.
Victory in the final would also secure Champions League qualification and land Mourinho two trophies in his first season at Old Trafford following on from success in February’s EFL Cup final. Asked if it was fair to judge the campaign as a success only if this occurs, the Portuguese, who claims he has never worked harder while in charge of a club, said: “By you media, you have the right to say it. And it makes sense to say it. 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. We work very hard. I probably work, this season, harder than ever. When I analyse, I don’t think that way. But if I was in your chair, maybe.
“We won a League Cup. We won a 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 in this club that nobody did in the first season. Like winning a trophy, like having the record of Manchester United in the Premier League, unbeatable. Like reaching a European final. But if I was on your side and you are always looking for these kind of capital letters, big headlines, I accept if you say that.”
Mourinho’s 17-year managerial career has taken in seven clubs: Benfica, Uniao Leiria, Porto, Chelsea (twice), Internazionale, Real Madrid, and now United. Asked why this first season at Old Trafford has been his hardest working, Mourinho said: “[Because of] the players and the club. Sometimes you get into big clubs in difficult moments and the work is harder than at a smaller club in a moment of positive explosion.
“It is a very hard season. Some invisible work [from outside] eyes. But when I analyse my work I know what I had to do. But, again, I accept at your [media’s] eyes football results make that decision”. United are sixth in the Premier League, 19 points behind champions-elect, Chelsea, with three matches left. On Sunday they travel to Tottenham Hotspur, who are second, trailing Chelsea by seven points.
Mourinho will rest players ahead of the Europa League final, though with Eric Bailly suspended due to the red card he received on Thursday the centre-back is set to feature in the remaining league matches.
“Even if it was unfair I don’t think Uefa rules will allow any chance of an appeal,” said Mourinho of Bailly’s suspension. “So I don’t think he plays the final. And if he doesn’t play the final, he has to play the remaining matches in the Premier League and give rest to some of the others. In the Premier League we can only finish fifth or sixth. I don’t think we can finish seventh and I don’t think we can finish fourth.
“We can win a trophy and by winning that trophy we can play Champions League next season. So that’s the game. But obviously, like we did against Arsenal [last Sunday], we didn’t throw the match away. We played, we tried to win. And that’s what we are going to do.”
Mourinho said Sergio Romero, who has featured in 11 of United’s 14 Europa League games, will start as his No1 berth in the Stokholm final. “No dilemma,” said the manager. “It is fair Sergio is going to play the final and David [De Gea] accepts. He accepts that because, especially, he has already played Europa League matches.
“And if we win the trophy, David wins the trophy because he played two matches against Feyenoord and against Fenerbahce. But if everything goes normal and we have no problems, Sergio plays the final. They are two fantastic goalkeepers. I never saw in all my career two goalkeepers to be so friendly because it is a position when you always have a little bit of rivalry, especially if you are both the same kind of level.
“You are speaking about Argentina national goalkeeper and Spain national goalkeeper. They are so friends and they support each other all the time. I never saw a bad face.”