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Jose Mourinho’s Roma future rests on one game after ‘disgusting’ football and Serie A collapse

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For Jose Mourinho and Roma, it all comes down to this.

The Europa League final offers the Portuguese the chance not only to win back-to-back European trophies, but to snatch a Champions League spot and salvage a poor domestic campaign that has threatened to precipitate his exit.

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It’s an occasion dripping with storylines. In a battle of serial winners, there can be only one – will Mourinho make it six wins from six in European finals, or are Sevilla set for a seventh Europa crown?

Mourinho can become the first manager to win the second-tier trophy with three clubs – following successes at Porto and Manchester United – and this year marks the 20-year anniversary of that maiden success.

Not that the Special One is ready to dwell on past achievements just yet.

“Maybe people think I’m older than I am,” he said.

“Maybe they look at my white hair and think I’m really old, but not old [enough] to think about closing the circle. You are going to have me still for many years.”

For all that, there is a nervousness around Rome about where those years will be spent.

Mourinho is adored in the Eternal City, his name boomed out by packed crowds at every home game, but a turbulent second season has cast doubt over what comes next as he approaches the final year of his contract.

The 60-year-old has regularly raged against referees, pundits, squad depth, injuries and more, and the more unsettled he has become, the more the speculation has appeared.

PSG have been most frequently linked, although those rumours were dismissed when put to the Roma boss recently: “If they called, they didn’t find me,” he said.

The lurking doubt troubling Romanisti is that the issue seemingly most likely to trigger a departure – a lack of investment in the squad – is directly linked to the outcome in Budapest.

Roma are limping over the finish line in Serie A; a seven-match winless run, including a late collapse to lose at Fiorentina on Saturday, has ruled them out of the top four and a top-six spot still needs to be secured on the final day.

(FILES) Roma's Portuguese head coach Jose Mourinho celebrates with the trophy after his team won the UEFA Europa Conference League final football match between AS Roma and Feyenoord at the Air Albania Stadium in Tirana on May 25, 2022. Twenty years after lifting his first European Cup with FC Porto, Jose Mourinho and AS Roma can claim their sixth continental trophy, when they take on Sevilla in the Europa League on May 31, 2023. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)
Jose Mourinho is adored in Rome after winning the Europa Conference League last year (Photo: AFP)

Any hope of Champions League qualification – and receiving the gold-stuffed treasure chest that goes with it – rests on beating Sevilla.

Mou’s track record has earned him the backing of calcio luminaries like Roma legend Francesco Totti, who said “everything is easier with [Mourinho’s] strong personality” and backed him to “pass on this winning mentality”.

Former Italy World Cup winner Giuseppe Bergomi praised Mourinho for “creating an identity” and “a group that goes beyond its own limits, especially in difficult moments”.

He has certainly done that. Roma aren’t the prettiest team to watch, but they’ve been ruthlessly efficient in the knockout stages and their deep-lying and compact defence has the best xG for shots conceded inside the box per 90 minutes (3.08) in Europe’s top-five leagues this season.

Bayer Leverkusen player Kerem Demirbay was so frustrated after his side’s 1-0 aggregate semi-final defeat that he said: “It’s a shame that in a semi-final at such a high level that this type of play can be rewarded”, before branding Roma’s football “disgusting”.

Roma won’t care about the methods should they achieve their goal, but for all their coach’s experience in these games, it’s new ground for the Giallorossi.

Last year’s showcase in Tirana was Roma’s first European final since the 1990-91 UEFA Cup, which they lost to Inter, while their only experience before that was a 1983-84 European Cup final loss to Liverpool.

For an entire generation of Romanisti, new ground is being broken.

Their success could well depend on the condition of Paulo Dybala, who hasn’t started a match since 8 April due to injury and faces a late fitness race.

Tammy Abraham’s dry spell this season – 9 goals compared to 27 last year – has left the Lupi more reliant than ever on “La Joya” to provide match-winning moments.

It’s a nerve-wracking moment for Roma, with their season wobbling on the brink of being judged a success or failure.

Win, and it’s two European trophies in two years, another inevitably raucous street party and the riches of the Champions League.

Lose, and suddenly two seasons outside the top four in Serie A and a likely tightening of the purse-strings will make Mourinho’s future look more uncertain than ever.

Jose might not be thinking about “closing the circle” any time soon, but his time in Rome could all come down to this.

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