José Mourinho was finished.
Just 18 months after winning the Europa League with Manchester United, he was dismissed from his position at Old Trafford in the immediate aftermath of a 3-1 hammering by Liverpool at Anfield.
People wondered had the game moved past the two-time Champions League winner, and was he no longer on the same level as industry leaders Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.
His time at Tottenham Hotspur only made this worse, with Marca even running a piece called: “Jose Mourinho's days of success are finished in top level club football... but it's not all his fault.”
Just over a year on from that he won the inaugural edition of the Europa Conference League, and now he brings his Roma team to Budapest to play perennial Europa League finalists Sevilla.
The Return Of The King
The Special One is back in a European final tonight, and there’s even rumours that he could be going to PSG this summer and front their Champions League challenge
His return didn’t happen overnight, it was a gradual process that only accelerated after his Roma team were beaten 6-1 by Bodo/Glimt in the group stage of the Europa Conference League in October 2021.
How he transformed Roma; a club that has had a held desire to be like one of the Milan clubs or Juventus, goes right back to when Mourinho overhauled the squad during his first transfer window.
Six players were brought in, and this group was strengthened by the loan signings of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sérgio Oliveira in January 2022.
All of this has helped Roma become a serial winner in Europe, and one of the best defensive sides on the continent.
They even boasted the best record in Europe’s top five leagues at one point this season, despite being out of the Serie A title race.
Roma Wasn't Built In A Day
The key to this success has been continuity with Roma playing with a settled back three that has Chris Smalling, Gianluca Mancini, and Roger Ibañez.
What makes this all so different from previous Mourinho teams is that shrewd deals that have underpinned Roma’s rise. The club need these as they are trying to deal with around €271m of debt, a crisis that was enhanced by UEFA withholding €5m in prize money from this season’s Europa League because of FPP breaches.
Roma remained competitive through this period by bringing in Paulo Dybala and Nemanja Matić on free transfers. This immediately paid off as the Argentine has scored 11 times in 24 league games.
Gini Wijnaldum was also signed loan from PSG, with the midfielder adding depth to the middle of the pitch and a goal scoring threat.
This has allowed Roma to challenge for top four, something that was slightly hindered by Juventus getting 15 points handed back.
Despite this new economic way of managing, Mourinho has remained true to himself.
"If I did not have the ambition of trying to win, it would be very easy for me to say now that we have already won the Europa League," he said before Roma dismissed Bayer Leverkusen in the semifinal. "Because if the Europa League is for the teams that started this competition, then Roma have won.
The Special One is now one game away from another European final, and this feels very much like the start of something as opposed to the accumulation of a yearlong project.
Where the end goal is, remains to be seen. It could be at the Stadio Olimpico or the French capital.
What matters is that one of the greatest coaches in European football is back.