Those out to dismiss the Europa Conference League as a minor trophy might want to try telling that to the Roma supporters celebrating victory in Europe for the first time in 61 years.
From the stadium in Tirana to the fans watching in the Olimpico back in Rome, this was joy unbridled. Remarkably, the first piece of European silverware claimed by any Italian club in a dozen years had been delivered by the same coach who had won the previous one.
A certain Jose Mourinho.
The reputation is not as it was in 2010 when he took Inter to Champions League glory. The win over Feyenoord in Albania was his first trophy in five years, although the wait may have been shorter had Tottenham not sacked him on the eve of a cup final.
That might explain the tearful reaction to winning his fifth European final in five attempts. Over the course of this interview with Sky Sports, he will explain what drives him on as he approaches 60 years old, and how he has had to adapt and evolve to succeed again.
Firstly, let’s address that question of motivation.
“Well, it is my nature,” he tells Sky Sports.
“It is the nature of somebody who wants to be in football for many years. If you are not in love with football and you achieve everything there is to achieve in football, you just quit and you enjoy your medals. And you enjoy your life outside football.
“But if you love football, you do not want to stop. If you love football, you do not feel that you are getting older. You feel fresh, you feel young and that feeling goes until your last days.
“So, the motivation is part of the DNA.”
There are hints of the old belligerence in some of his responses. Is it too mischievous, for example, to imagine that he might have certain contemporaries in mind when asked to reflect on his record of winning titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain?
“What is more, I have won in these four countries very, very early on. I did not need to be there three, four or five years to win. It was immediately. In the first or maximum second season.
“I think that is because I tried to understand the team. I studied. I tried to get the best of the differences by trying to put into practice my own ideas but at the same time respecting the local cultures and, in my case, also the local feeling and approach to the game.”
But perhaps there is also a new willingness to embrace change. “The young guy of 2000 is different from the young guy of 2022,” he says. In context, it feels more like a challenge to be embraced rather than a lament to what has been lost.
Leadership is still key.
“There have been changes in terms of leadership – it is about involvement now.
“Leadership means people have to follow you. And to follow you, they have to believe in you. Normally they believe in you if they feel empathy, if they feel honesty.
“In my personal case as a leader, what that means to me, means exactly the responsibility of not letting your people down. You have to be with them and for them, all the time.
“They have to trust you.”
When Mourinho arrived at Roma last summer, this was soon raised as a potential problem. Two of his former Manchester United players, Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, were senior figures at the club. There was talk of a difficult relationship with the latter.
Any concerns soon faded. It helped that Mourinho’s appointment was greeted with excitement. Star player Lorenzo Pellegrini said it was like a shot of lightning had gone through the football club. Mourinho found a receptive audience for his ideas.
Pellegrini called him the right man at the right time.
Exactly what Roma needed.
Exactly what Mourinho needed too.
“Every time I see him I am still starstruck,” says striker Tammy Abraham when discussing his manager. Pellegrini calls him one of the best coaches in the world. Abraham put him in the top one, crediting Mourinho with making him feel special again.
Nicolo Zaniolo, scorer of the winning goal in Tirana, simply describes him as a winner, noting that he had helped him to become a better player defensively. Everyone at Roma seems to have their own story – and crucially those stories are all a little different.
“Everyone needs a different way to communicate, a different way to give feedback, to motivate them. The most important thing is really to know their nature, to know everything about them. Then you can interact with them almost on an individual basis.
“I would say it’s kind of like when you go to a restaurant and you eat ‘a la carte’, like they say in French. ‘A la carte’ is basically what you have to do with the player. Don’t look at them like they’re all the same because all of them are different.”
Perhaps surprisingly, he does not regard himself as a natural leader.
“I wouldn’t say so,” he reveals.
“In fact, at a young age, I would say I was a silent leader. But my job doesn’t let me be a silent leader which is my nature. I have to be in the public eye all the time, I have to communicate through media all the time and that makes a big difference.”
But he is a born manager.
Smalling highlights his ability to get the big games right. Roger Ibanez, the Brazilian defender, points out that Mourinho knows everything about him.
The devil is still in the detail.
“The key to success remains the same – it’s all about the strategy. You cannot predict everything but the more prepared you are, the more you can put into the training.
“You can reduce that unpredictability and that gives the feeling of making your choices and decisions easier. You know that football games have some risk of course, but you have to try to reduce that risk by preparing the best you can.”
Is that enough to stay ahead?
When Mourinho had such swift success at the start of his managerial career, the methods of Vitor Frade and those ideas about tactical periodisation were dissipated far and wide. His influence has been so great that finding an edge on the rest must be harder than it was. But not impossible.
“The game has changed over the last two decades. In terms of training and methodology we have many new different tools for analysing a game even from the bench.
“Today, I have something that was forbidden 20 years ago which is a monitor with a tactical camera that we have on the stadiums and that can give us different perspectives of the pitch.
“New dimensions of the coaching staff appeared. Now there are lots of people around who specialise in many different areas so you can share the work. That is a different situation.
“Just to give you an example, some time ago you just had the fitness coach. Now you have the performance coach, the recovery coach, the individual coach, and you have the prevention coach. It is crazy. It has brought our work to an incredible dimension.
“You have to deal with so many people with so different characters and egos now. You also need to cope with much more information than before. Sometimes I have to select the most important information because we simply can’t deal with everything.
“I believe that is quite similar to the Formula One teams. During the race they have so much data that they have to be very selective. They cannot simply pass all the information to the driver.”
The game has changed but the aim remains the same. Cross the line first. Win the race. European football’s most renowned winner, a man once synonymous with success, is still out there competing, still determined to take his place on the grid.
XTB ambassador Jose Mourinho on the values that he shares with them
“Well thought-out strategy, desire to win, the same applies to investing. You know, at the end of the day everybody wants to win. In my case it’s in football. In XTB’s case it is of course a different area, but you have the same desire to achieve, learning every day, trying to be better every day. Sometimes it’s the feeling of intuition. But there is also a lot of studying, preparation and an investment in yourself.”