The Manchester United manager had prioritized the Europa League over a top-four finish in the Premier League, and for someone who has made pragmatism an art form to roll the dice in such an all-or-nothing manner is out of character.
Mourinho had called the matchup with Celta “the biggest game in the club’s history,” and United now faces what is touted as the Louis van Gaal derby against the Dutchman’s former club Ajax in the final, which will presumably be “the biggest game in the club’s history, part 2.” Success in the final in Stockholm and Mourinho will end his first season with United having guided it to winning the League Cup and the Europa League.
Defeat, however, would see United back in the Europa League while probably finishing sixth in the Premier League, which would be seen as a huge underachievement given Mourinho’s reputation and the 150 million he spent in the transfer market last summer.
Whatever United’s cup tally this season, its Premier League campaign has been underwhelming, with 20 points dropped at Old Trafford thanks to draws against, among others, Bournemouth, Hull, Stoke, Burnley and West Bromwich Albion.
In nine matches this season against the other teams in the Big Six, Mourinho’s United has scored only half a dozen goals and, with Sunday’s visit to White Hart Lane to come, it has not scored on the road against any of them.
United’s Achilles heel has been its inability to score its 51 goals in the Premier League is easily the lowest of the top seven clubs despite having Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard to call upon.
United has played what amounted to a back six against bigger teams in one-off matches, which has generally got Mourinho through, though nullifying the opposition is alien to the Reds’ traditions because it shows an inferiority complex.
And, of course, United is also one defeat from another season in the Europa League, which Mourinho has admitted will be “because we are not good enough.” In the end, Juventus paid Raiola 22.8 million commission, United is due to give him 16.4 million over three years and Pogba handed the multi-millionaire middle man 2 million, though that was paid by United.