BUDAPEST, Hungary: A remarkable perfect record in European soccer must fall when Sevilla face Jose Mourinho’s Roma in the Europa League final on Wednesday.
Sevilla have played six and won six finals of the Europa League since their first in 2006, when the second-tier competition was still called the UEFA Cup.
“For them to play the final is a normal thing, for us it is an extraordinary event,” Mourinho said on Tuesday, though adding: “History does not play.”
Still, history also has something to say about Mourinho. The former Porto, Inter Milan and Manchester United coach has a 5-0 career mark in finals of the three major European club competitions, dating to 2003 and Porto’s UEFA Cup triumph.
Mourinho actually has more European title wins than Sevilla coach Jose Luis Mendilibar has total games managed in those same competitions. The 62-year-old Mendilibar’s career is peaking since joining then-struggling Sevilla just two months ago.
“I have had more opportunities to play in European competitions, but Mendilibar is of the same generation as me, with the same white hair,” the 60-year-old Mourinho said. “We are on an equal footing.”
Only one record can survive their meeting at Puskas Arena in Budapest, where the Europa League trophy is just the start of the rewards for the winning club.
Neither Roma nor Sevilla can finish in the top four of their domestic leagues that would have ensured qualifying for the Champions League.
Their only path to the Champions League next season — and the potential tens of millions of euros (dollars) in extra prize money from UEFA — is taking the group-stage place protected for the Europa League winner.
The high value of this Europa League to both clubs is in stark contrast to a Mourinho comment from 10 years ago that became infamous.
“If I win the Europa League it will be a big disappointment for me because I don’t want to play in it,” he said on being re-hired by Chelsea. It was seen as throwing shade on his predecessor Rafa Benitez, who weeks earlier as Chelsea interim coach won the 2013 Europa title.
Mourinho and Benitez are among four coaches who have led two different teams to win the 52-year-old competition.
The Roma coach can make more history by becoming the first coach to win the Europa League with three different clubs, joining his Porto and Man United (2017) teams. And this just one year after the latest team in his storied career won the inaugural Europa Conference League to make Mourinho the first coach with titles in each of the three club competitions.
Mendilibar has a more modest background yet has arguably outcoached Mourinho in his brief spell at Sevilla.
Replacing former Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli in March, Mendilibar became Sevilla’s third coach this season with the team just two points clear of the La Liga relegation zone.
Mendilibar’s Sevilla have lost only two of 11 league games, is one point off seventh place going into the final round this weekend, and is unbeaten in the Europa League after eliminating Man United — despite trailing 2-0 after 83 minutes at Old Trafford in the first leg — and Juventus.
Roma came to Budapest having gone seven Serie A league games without a win, and advancing to the final with a 0-0 draw in the second leg at Bayer Leverkusen, managing just one goal attempt compared to 23 for the Germans.
“I don’t think they need many chances to score and to win,” Mendilibar said of Roma. “I don’t think they worry too much about getting to the opposition goal.”
Mourinho fans can point to that being a classic quality of his teams — doing exactly what was needed to win.