Jose Mourinho needs to win Europa League even more than Manchester United do

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The Europa League is the only major trophy missing from Manchester United’s trophy cabinet and they have moved smoothly into the final under the guidance of Jose Mourinho.

As Jose Mourinho evocatively spoke about how he wants to “close the circle” of Manchester United’s club history by winning the Europa League for the first time, it is fitting that the competition itself represents how his career has come full circle – and could yet lead to a new cycle.

That is what the continent’s second-tier trophy has become for the manager, and one other reason why it should be United’s first priority for the remainder of this campaign. It is about more than Champions League qualification, but also about making his debut season a qualified success.

Jose mourinhoIf United fail to claim the Europa League, after all, it would mean that this season’s haul would at best be a League Cup and – at a stretch at this point – a top-four place. That is effectively a Louis van Gaal season – and on the face of it quite underwhelming, especially after all the bombast of preseason and the need for Mourinho to reassert himself after his own crisis of 2015-16.

Manchester United’s injury crisis has eased in time for  Europa League final, against Ajax as Jose Mourinho confirmed Paul Pogba, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are fit to return in team.

Mourinho will also have Eric Bailly and Juan Mata available to compensate for the season-ending injuries suffered by top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw.

There’s also no accounting for the “feeling” that such a trophy can bring, of what it can do for a team – let alone bring them back into the Champions League. The distinctive piece of silverware could help relaunch Mourinho’s career in a sense, then, just as it helped first launch it.

Such has been his ubiquity – and, as was put to Ajax, his “mediatique” profile – it is almost impossible to imagine Mourinho now as the game’s bright young thing. Yet that is exactly what he was when he claimed the old Uefa Cup in winning a treble with FC Porto in 2002-03 – his first full season as a manager.

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