(Top four or Europa League? Why not both? José ponders the obvious!)
José Mourinho loves the Europa League. Not that he has much choice as it is the only European competition in which Manchester United are competing this season.
He didn’t appear to love it at the start of the season and it was only when he was reminded that it offered automatic Champion’s League qualification that his feelings towards it grew in a dramatic fashion.
His initial reaction to it could be gauged when he took over at Chelsea for the second time and pointed out that they were not a team to be involved in the “B-grade” competitions. This was certainly a dig at Rafa Benitez, his old friend, who had won the competition the previous season.
He managed to refrain from making similar comments regarding a certain Dutchman who left him in the same competition a couple of years, or so, later.
Already guaranteed a “successful” first season in the Old Trafford hot seat due to his winning of the Community Shield and the EFL Cup Mourinho can, to an extent, get away with finishing outside of the top four providing he wins the Europa League. Not that he would be sacked if this failed to materialise but he would be under more pressure for next season.
So success for Manchester United would be EFL Cup winners, Europa League winners and a top four finish. They seem to have fallen from their perch, at least a little way, anyway. Not too long ago a successful season was FA Cup winners, Champion’s League winners and Premier League champions.
This is the same club with the same, if not more, money. They have the same massive fanbase and the same objectives and principles.
There is only one aspect in which Manchester United are different to what they were eighteen years ago, apart from the obvious turnaround of players, and that is the manager.
José Mourinho is not Sir Alex Ferguson but his work certainly bears a closer resemblance than that of either David Moyes or Louis van Gaal.
Given a choice, Manchester United fans would prefer to win the Europa League than finish in the top four as it represents a trophy in the cabinet and a trip to a final. Top four without winning it, for United at least, represents failure and would be tolerated rather than welcomed.
The Europa League is now a little nearer after tonight’s victory over Anderlecht and nobody left in the competition need be feared. The only team which can stop Manchester United winning this tournament. Manchester United.
So for the season to be looked upon favourably, which means an improvement on what has happened in the relatively recent past, United need to win another trophy and qualify for the Champion’s League.
For José Mourinho neither is an absolute necessity as he has done enough to convince the vast majority that he should remain at Manchester United for the long run but both are targets on which he will have his sights firmly set. He does, after all, like to win.