Roma’s ‘feeling of family’ key to reaching Europa Conference League final

Jose Mourinho says the “family spirit” between his club AS Roma and his fans was the main reason he reached the Europa Conference League final.

The outspoken Portuguese coach told Roma fans ahead of their 1-0 semi-final second leg win over Leicester City that they shouldn’t come to the stadium just ‘to watch’ the game, but rather ‘to play it”.

The fans did their job creating a stifling atmosphere for 90 minutes and Mourinho did his as he helped his Roma side to a 2-1 aggregate victory against their Premier League opponents.

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“It’s the victory of a family,” said Mourinho, “Not just the one who was on the pitch and on the bench, but also inside the stadium. That’s our greatest achievement, that empathy and that sense of family that we’ve created with the Fans.”

Roma will now face Eredivisie side Feyenoord in the deciding game on May 25 in Albania, with Mourinho becoming the first manager to take four different sides to the European final after doing so with Porto twice, Inter Milan and Manchester United.

In total, this will be the former Chelsea manager’s fifth appearance in a European final in two decades, having won the previous four: the 2003 UEFA Cup and the 2004 Champions League final with Porto, the League final 2010 champions with Inter and the 2017 final. Europa League final with Man United.

“I’ve been lucky enough to play in bigger and more prestigious finals than this,” Mourinho said. “But in terms of how we’ve created a family atmosphere here, that makes me feel special.

“Over the years I have become less self-centered and more like a father,” Mourinho said. “Every club I’ve coached, I’ve made a final. That’s good.”

If Roma beat Feyenoord in the final, Mourinho would become just the third manager to win three different UEFA competitions after Giovanni Trapattoni and Udo Lattek, who both won the European Cup, UEFA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup.

In a typically managed Mourinho game, Roma took the lead through a first-half header from Tammy Abraham, then barely held on as the Giallorossi packed and defended throughout the second half. And the tactic worked.

“I think our performance was extraordinary,” Mourinho said. “Others might see it differently, but when your goalkeeper makes two saves in 120 minutes against a Premier League side with such attacking quality, it means we’ve done something right.”

With Roma sitting fifth in Serie A and missing out on Champions League places, the inaugural edition of the third-tier Conference League has already made Mourinho’s debut season at Roma a success.

It’s quite a turnaround from just over a year ago, when Mourinho’s career appeared on a downward spiral after dressing room apathy and growing disillusionment with his tactics cost him his work at Tottenham Hotspur.

Mourinho, 59, has shown his willingness to wait as he tries to make Roma a contender.

Abraham, the 24-year-old striker who Mourinho convinced Roma to spend 40 million euros ($44 million) on in August, has been decisive all season. His nine Conference League goals put him third all-time among English players in a single season of European competition after Alan Shearer (11 in the 2004-05 UEFA Cup) and Stan Bowles (11 in the 1976-77 UEFA Cup).

“We have a coach who knows how to win. But it has been a process of growth,” said Roma defender Gianluca Mancini. “Just because you have Mourinho on the bench doesn’t mean you win straight away.”

This will be Roma’s first European final since losing the 1991 UEFA Cup trophy to domestic rivals Inter. Roma also lost their only other continental final, after a penalty shootout against Liverpool in the 1984 European Cup at their home stadium.

Thursday night, however, was more about Mourinho, who shed tears at the final whistle.

“It’s a giant club without the trophy room compared to the social dimension of the club,” Mourinho said. “It’s not a trophy, it’s just a final, but it means a lot to them. My emotion was for them.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.

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