STADIO OLIMPICO (Rome): As the full-time whistle blew, the sell-out Stadio Olimpico crowd’s roar reached deafening decibels and the Roma replacements spilled onto the pitch in celebration.
Roma were in their first European final for 31 years.
On the touchline, Jose Mourinho was in tears. Only 24 hours had passed since the first anniversary of the Special One’s appointment in Rome, and he marked it by moving one step away from achieving his primary objective: ending Roma’s 14-year wait for a trophy.
The foxes were no match for the wolves as Roma booked their place in the first-ever Conference League final at the expense of Premier League side Leicester this evening.
— ForzaItalianFootball (@SerieAFFC) May 5, 2022
The last 12 months of Mourinho-mania in the capital has provided topsy-turvy drama.
From the hysteria that greeted his arrival, to the despair that followed the 6-1 hammering to Bodo/Glimt, from Mourinho’s moans about referees and squad depth to huge wins in Europe and the Rome Derby in front of packed-out crowds. Lows and highs have followed one another in quick succession.
The Stadio Olimpico has rarely been as animated as it was during Thursday’s 1-0 win over Leicester.
The Mou masterclass, where an early goal from Tammy Abraham gave the Giallorossi a lead that they never looked like losing, was roared on by a 64,000-strong crowd determined to respond to their manager’s call for them not to turn up and watch, but to play with the team.
“They played well,” a grinning Mourinho quipped in the press conference room afterwards.
The Portuguese also spoke of Roma being a “family”, saying: “as the years go by, you become less egocentric and more of a father of the group”.
For the Romanisti, Mourinho is saying all the right things. His efforts to create a relationship between the fans and the squad, not to mention his regular complaints about officiating, have gone down well with an adoring fanbase.
It is quite the change from the disenchanted atmosphere that that hung around the club this time last year.
Roma’s last game before the news of Mou’s arrival dropped was a 2-0 defeat to Sampdoria, their third defeat in a row after Paulo Fonseca’s side suffered a 6-2 collapse in the Europa League semi-final first leg to Manchester United.
Still, it would be easy to be a little confused by the drastic upturn in mood.
After all, Roma are only one point better off this season than last, and they’ve again failed to reach the Champions League.
Their form has been patchy, the defeat in Norway was one of their most humiliating ever, and the football on offer – Thursday night included – hasn’t always been thrilling.
However. There is a feeling that the club has its identity back, that under Mourinho the bar has been raised about what is possible in the future.
The Europa Conference League may not be the standard of competition that Mourinho would choose to be involved in, but it offers him and his team a golden opportunity.
Roma’s silverware drought has hung like a weight around their necks since 2008, and ending it with a first-ever major European trophy in Mourinho’s debut season would only heighten the Special One hype.
There’s no getting away from the fact that it has been a disappointing season on the pitch for Roma in Serie A; their final three games will determine whether they finish best of the rest in fifth, or out of the European spots entirely in eighth.
But Thursday underlined the enormous success Mourinho’s appointment has been off the pitch. The Leicester game was Roma’s 15th sell-out of the season, and the loudest yet.
Mourinho will always have his critics and his doubters, but he’s managed to create a buzz around the club that is worlds away from this time last year, and he’s now a win against Feyenoord away from entering Roma folklore as their first coach to win a major European trophy.
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