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Mourinho unwilling to look beyond Torino challenge ahead of final

Everything the boss had to say during Wednesday's UEFA Media Day, a week out from the Europa Conference League final against Feyenoord...

Jose Mourinho faced the media on Wednesday afternoon at Trigoria, taking questions about the May 25 showdown in Tirana.

Here's what the Portuguese boss had to say about the upcoming contest...


You’ve already spoken about the impact the support of the Roma fans has had on you. Would you like to be here for a long time, becoming something like the Sir Alex Ferguson of Roma?

“Sir Alex Ferguson was at Manchester United for more than 20 years. I am 59 now – being here until I’m 79 is going to be difficult. But I understand the sense of your question.

“I really enjoy being here. The passion is visible, you feel it. I accepted a certain type of project and that project is for three years. Then we will see what the profile of the project is going to be following those three years.

“I think I will be here for those three years – I am certainly not thinking or looking to leave before the end of those three years. And then we will see what direction the project is going. Many times projects end up going better than you thought, sometimes they don’t, but football is always about today and, if you are lucky, tomorrow.

“Tomorrow I want to be here. Next season I want to be here. That’s the best way I can answer your question.”

There is a lot of excitement in Tirana at the prospect of Roma coming to Tirana. But it is also going to be problematic for Roma fans, given that the stadium can only hold 20,000 fans. And then there is Marash Kumbulla – will he be playing at his national stadium?

“With or without Kumbulla in the starting line-up, I hope that the fans in Tirana will be on our side and not on theirs. If Roma win, there will be an Albanian winning the cup in Tirana. And that, in my opinion, should be more than enough to see fans there support Roma over Feyenoord.

“This would restore the balance a bit. We are playing one big game on Friday and then another on Wednesday, whereas the opposition have already finished their season and have more rest in their legs. Hopefully this link between Albania and Kumbulla can rebalance that a bit.

“The final in Albania is a double pleasure. One, because we are playing in a final there, and two because it will be my first time in the country. I actually have a few friends in Tirana.

“The fact that the stadium can hold too few fans, at least for two clubs like Roma and Feyenoord, is the only negative element. Even if we were playing in a stadium of 50,000 or 60,000 it would still be too small. If we were playing this game at the Santiago Bernabeu it would be sold out.

“But a country like Albania deserves this opportunity. I have already playing in North Macedonia with Real Madrid, in Stockholm for the Europa League final with Manchester United. They are countries that deserve football events like this. It will be great – and it will be especially great if Kumbulla lifts the trophy.”

You and Carlo Ancelotti have both reached UEFA finals this season. Have some people been too quick to right you both off at the top of management?

“I think that the problem for Carlo was that, when you go and coach Everton, clearly you are not going to win the Champions League. I think the problem with me is that people have seen some of the jobs I have done and thought the targets were to win and really they weren’t to win. But when you have a track record of success like that, almost regularly, then it says something about you. There’s no problem, I’ve never been worried about that. I don’t think about the next generation [replacing us]. I think about quality. And the quality does not change with age.

“There are great players at 20 and great players at 40. For example, the goal Quagliarella scored against Venezia I would have been more than happy to have seen from any of my 20-year-olds – maybe that way we would have won against Venezia!

“For coaches, when you lose the passion is when you are finished. When you have the passion, when you have the quality, it’s up to us as managers to say when we are done. If anyone is thinking that I should say it’s time to stop, then they will have to wait a while because it will not be any time soon.”

To finish the season off well you need to get a couple of positive results in your final two games. If that doesn’t happen, though, will this season be a failure? Or will there still be positives to take?

“This possibility exists – we can’t say it is an impossible scenario. The risk is there. We have two finals to play and theoretically we could lose them both. There is that risk. I know it, the players know it.

“It’s not a situation that is easy to manage. I am only capable of focusing on Friday’s game right now – in fact I’m really not happy to be here talking today about a game that takes places next week.

“I could not hold a proper training session [today] because it was open to you guys. I was sat on the bench all the time, without doing any tactical work or anything specific. It was a fake training. But it’s true that there are many ways that people can approach situations like this. There will be those that will focus fully on Friday and only then turn their attention to Tirana, while there might be those that thing about both or just on the final.

“If you are asking me which of the three approaches I prefer, then it is to focus everything on Friday. The problem is that it can’t just be me who thinks only about Friday. The players have to think the same, my coaches have to think the same, the medical staff have to think the same.

“Today in training we haven’t hidden any players. Smalling, Karsdorp, Zaniolo, Mkhitaryan – they weren’t there because they are currently not available for Friday. It’s not easy. It would be easier if we were already qualified for Europe in the league or we were already out of it altogether. But my way of working is to focus on Friday.”

The UEFA president revealed a conversation you had with him, in which you talked about your delight at reaching the final. Do you think the fact you are in this final has been a major boost for UEFA? And, on the subject of injuries, can you update us on Mkhitaryan and Zaniolo?

"Mkhitaryan was injured against Leicester and he needs time. How much time exactly we will have to see. He has still not trained with the team. There is no chance for him for Friday and only a small chance for Wednesday.

“Zaniolo, meanwhile, has a small chance for Friday and I think a better one for Wednesday. But if those chances of being available for Friday will improve, then I will do everything to have him back for that one.

“Smalling is injured, and there is no chance he will be available for Friday, but he is a doubt for Wednesday. Karsdorp, of the four, is the one with the greatest chance of being available.

“In terms of this final, I am excited because more than myself, I think about the fans and the players. Obviously I want to win the trophy for myself, but it’s more important to me that the fans celebrate a moment that they have not had for a long time. For some of the players it could be their first trophy in the game too. I am not egocentric, I am a man of the group. So I want to win for them, I want to help them to do it. I would really like that.

“For UEFA, I will be honest: whenever changes are made, there is always going to be criticism. People who take a risk need to be supported sometimes. It’s a new competition, and when it began people only saw the play-offs. They saw play-offs with teams from different countries, perhaps none from the bigger leagues. So they thought it was a minor competition.

“But now at the end of the competition we had teams like Roma, Marseille, Leicester and Feyenoord – clubs you have to take seriously. Semi-finals that had 70,000 fans watching at games. Our stadium was full, the Velodrome [in Marseille] was full – so was Leicester’s. So we are pleased to have helped UEFA in that regard and next season this competition will be even more attractive to teams.”

You have managed in a number of finals in your career. Are you preparing for this one differently? Does it feel different around the city?

“Yes, I feel like it’s harder. I’ve even talked about this internally – how before the Champions League with Inter we still had to win the league. And that then the staff were all focused on that. At Porto we had the same thing. Here I feel this general euphoria around that does not help us to focus on a game that, for me, is more important – which is the next one. So I admit it is not easy.

“We have tried to do everything, with Tiago Pinto, to ensure that no player has any logistical worries. But it is bigger than that. It’s something that you can feel outside the place. When you go to a restaurant or a supermarket, no one is talking about Torino. Torino doesn’t exist. And that’s been born from the joy of playing in a final and having a 50% chance of winning a trophy. But the right mentality is to be focused on Friday.

“And so that frustrates me a little, because we deserve to already be fifth with a lot more points on the board. Between referees, VAR, our mistakes, my mistakes and bad luck … we should have already finished fifth. But we have not down. So on Friday we have an important game that we need to take seriously.”

In theory there is still chance to finish about Lazio in fifth. Maurizio Sarri has said that it is a provincial mentality to think like that – what do you say?

“Usually I don’t comment on what my colleagues have to say – but when I’m in agreement it’s a bit easier to say something! I agree with him, you shouldn’t look left or right to say whether you’ve finished ahead or behind. I said the same both when we won the derby and when we lost. I have understood this season what it means to lose a derby and then win one convincingly. It’s too much.

“But it is the culture, it’s popular culture and as a coach I have always tried to learn the popular culture of the place that I’ve been working. And when you become a Roma fan that means you are one. So I know this aspect is important.

“In practice coming fifth or sixth is essentially the same thing. Fifth or seventh is different, fourth or fifth is different. The final is something that could also make a decisive difference. A final can mean a trophy and that means something more.”

From the fake training, as you called it, a few things stood out to me. Ibanez playing in many roles, Spinazzola playing on the right. Could they be clues?

“Ibanez playing across the pitch simply means that he is great in many aspects of the game, but he’s not so good at building the action with his vision and his passion. Playing in different spots, however, that means he gets the ball a lot, and in different places with different pressure around him. That has definitely helped him to think quicker, to act more decisively. Cristante has been doing that for a few months and honestly it seems to me that he has improved a lot as a player in those positions as a result.

“Against Venezia, Spinazzola did not do badly at all. It’s a shame about the yellow card, because for a player not in tip-top shape something like that could have created problems for him in the second half. But for 45 minutes he played well.

“Training on the right just means that, right now, we don’t have Rick Karsdorp available. On the left we have different options – Zalewski, Vina, El Shaarawy – and Leo, who clearly prefers to play on the left. But, in difficult moments, we need to play with what we have available. So if he needs to play on the right then he will play on the right.”

 
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