José Mourinho has said people forget about the impressive job Brendan Rodgers did in taking Liverpool to the cusp of winning the Premier League title on a tiny budget compared to the one Jürgen Klopp is working with, as his Roma team prepare to take on Leicester for a place in a European final.
Rodgers, who worked under Mourinho for three years at Chelsea, takes Leicester to the Stadio Olimpico on Thursday in the Europa Conference League semi-final with the tie finely poised after a 1-1 draw in the first leg. Rodgers can lead the club to their first European final but Mourinho is determined to cap his first season at Roma with a 26th major title.
Mourinho avoided the temptation to dip into cliche when asked about the significance of the game. “I always say that there is only one match that I didn’t win, which is the next one,” Mourinho said.
“I always want to win the next one. If the next one is a semi-final, even more, because a semi-final gives you the right to play the final… if you are not sacked before the final, ”he said, alluding to his dismissal by Tottenham before the Carabao Cup final. “Of course it’s not just the next match, it’s a special match and of course we want to win the competition.”
Of Rodgers, Mourinho said: “Brendan doesn’t surprise me. With Liverpool, people forget what he did with much, much less resources than Liverpool has now. He did amazing and then the Scottish history [with Celtic], people forget because people don’t focus much on Scottish Premier League. To win the [FA] Cup with Leicester and even the Community Shield, the stability in the club, the way they play, their recruitment, it is a perfect fit, Leicester and Brendan; very, very good. ”
Mourinho is adamant a partisan crowd of about 70,000 home fans can spur on his team to victory and Rodgers, whose side prevailed against PSV Eindhoven in the previous round, recognizes his players must cope with the atmosphere. Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, James Maddison and Jamie Vardy are expected to be fit to start, whereas Roma are without Henrikh Mkhitaryan because of a thigh problem.
“It’s a very young team playing at this level and we will gain from the experiences,” Rodgers said. “We have also shown that we can complete the task. This is another chapter in the story.
“Our main objective is just to keep the story of this club going. Like we did in the FA Cup, we wanted to be the winners for the first time and it’s clearly an objective for us in this competition as well. Can we pick up the club’s first piece of silverware in Europe? Now this is another chapter for us to write in our history. ”
The Leicester captain, Kasper Schmeichel, dismissed the suggestion that winning the Conference League would not rank as high as winning the Premier League or FA Cup.
“I don’t play football to finish fourth, fifth or sixth,” Schmeichel said. “You do it for the occasions where you’re in finals regardless of what competition it is. It’s about winning trophies. Those are the moments that fans and players will look back on, those moments when you got to lift trophies. ”