Some things are simply inevitable. Sevilla do not lose Europa League finals, not even against José Mourinho at his most cussed. Since 2006, Sevilla has been in seven Europa League finals and won them all, contributing to the astonishing record of Spanish teams in European finals as a whole: 18 now in a row against non-Spanish opposition without defeat after Sevilla edged out Mourinho and Roma in penalties Wednesday. Mourinho, of course, refused to take responsibility, blaming the referee, Anthony Taylor.
But the truth is that Taylor, his fourth official Michael Oliver and the VAR Stuart Attwell all had very good nights. Between them they got the big calls right, even right at the very end as Sevilla’s Gonzalo Montiel was invited to retake a penalty Rui Patrício had saved after they judged the keeper had moved off his line.
Much has been made of the way Mourinho won his semifinal, having less than 30% possession and recording just a single shot in the second leg, securing a 0–0 draw for a 1–0 aggregate with an xG of 0.03. It is, perhaps, one of those feats better done than witnessed.
For more than half an hour, Wednesday’s match was largely tepid fare, a bitter, scrappy game that harked back to how football had been 15-20 years ago, when Mourinho was a rising star of European management and football was a far more attritional game.
This was a festival of gamesmanship, replete with diving, feigning injury and attempts to pressure the admirably unflappable referee Taylor. Every decision was disputed by the Roma bench, to nobody’s surprise: Over the course of this season, an astonishing 13 red cards have been shown to coaching staff and substitutes. By the end of the match there had been 16 yellow cards: seven for Roma players, three for Roma staff including Mourinho, and six for Sevilla.
For a long spells, nothing much happened. There were a lot of fouls. A lot of players received treatment. There was noise and intensity and very little quality. Then, suddenly, after 35 minutes, came a moment of incisiveness out of keeping with everything that had gone before. Ivan Rakitić lost possession and Gianluca Mancini, the Roma central defender, strode onto the loose ball and fed Paulo Dybala, who converted adroitly. Mourinho, entirely characteristically, had suggested on Tuesday that the Argentinian, recovering from a hip injury, would be fit to play only 20 minutes.
Immediately, there was the typical Mourinho retreat to the bunker. It has served Roma well, not only in the Europa League this season, but in the Conference League last season as well. But here all it did was to encourage Sevilla. Rakitić hit a post in first-half injury time and then, 10 minutes after the break, Jesús Navas, a three-time winner of the competition, sent over an awkward low cross that cannoned in off Mancini as Lucas Ocampos closed in.
The spectacle remained miserable. The game lasted a grueling 146 minutes as a total of 26 minutes of injury time was added, Taylor refusing to give in to the time-wasting. “This is a Euro final and this kind of refereeing it is hard to accept,” said Mourinho. “It really becomes very hard. If we talk now about the different referee related situations. Not two or three there are many. Lorenzo Pellegrini fell into the box and was given a yellow, [Lucas] Ocampos did the same. It was a scandal. VAR called it and he was ashamed and no yellow. [Erik] Lamela, who scored one of the penalties, he deserved a second yellow card and he did not get it. Let’s hope he will be only in the Champions League and hopefully his blunders will only be in the Champions League and not the Europa League.”
But of course this is nonsense: Pellegrini did dive, throwing his leg into a defender to initiate contact. Ocampos went down having been tripped by a tackle that, VAR showed, did just clip the ball. This is Mourinho doing what he always does and creating a smokescreen. Because the truth is that, yet again, he adopted an ideologically negative approach, he chose to spoil when it seemed his side was on top. He handed the initiative to Sevilla when there was no need to do so. And it is far easier, of course, to blame a referee than to take responsibility for failure.
And that, of course, is Mourinho’s way, which deflects unfairly from the achievement of Sevilla’s José Luis Mendilibar who, at 62, became the oldest coach ever to win the Europa league. The only thing he had won before this was the Segunda Division with Valladolid, 16 years ago. Mourinho always dominates, but this final shouldn’t just be about the dark lord.