Jose Mourinho had the air of a man who has been here several times before.
Dressed in an oversized white T-shirt with a dark jumper tied around his shoulders, the Portuguese prowled his side’s final training session on the eve of another European final.
In these situations, one-off games, there are few more qualified to handle the occasion. He is a man who, in the week of a major final, goes ‘into the tunnel’.
“It’s been a week where none of us have slept at night, there is a lot of excitement,” one Roma supporter said as he sought to calm his nerves in Heroes’ Square (Hosok tere), one of the landmark locations in the heart of Budapest, host city of Wednesday’s Europa League final with Sevilla.
“We are excited but also full of energy and let’s hope for the best. Tomorrow will be a very long day, it will never pass by.”
According to reports, Mourinho has been extremely strict as to who is allowed in Roma’s training centre and has banned certain members of staff from entering the grounds in Trigoria.
The Portuguese boss has reached five European finals in his career, winning every single one he has appeared in. He knows what works.
With five major European titles to date – the UEFA Cup in 2003, the Champions League in 2004 and 2010, the Europa League in 2017 and the Europa Conference League in 2022 – he is a man you want in your corner on nights such as these.
“He’s different, he makes you realise the importance of the match,” Roma captain Lorenzo Pellegrini said earlier this month, insisting that all credit should be directed towards Mourinho for the team’s success.
“We came here and everyone knew what they had to do. We study, we organise ourselves, we watch videos. Especially in Europe, you can see what the coach brings us. Mourinho is the creator of this personality of ours.”
Acuna banned, Dybala set to be passed fit
Sevilla will be without talismanic left back Marcos Acuna, who was sent off in extra time in the second leg of the semi-final against Juventus, which Sevilla won 2-1 for a 3-2 aggregate victory, for time wasting after a second yellow card.
Roma will have full-back Leonardo Spinazzola back after a muscle strain, while forwards Stephan El Shaarawy and Paulo Dybala should also be fit.
Bright sunshine in Budapest, the man from Setubal has come a long way since being hand-picked by Porto, two years after quitting Benfica.
The 2002/03 season was career-defining for Mourinho, marking the start of his affinity with European silverware as victory over Martin O’Neill’s Celtic in the UEFA Cup completed a treble success.
Under the lights of the Puskas Arena, Mourinho will have the chance to add to his legacy, having also won the Europa League with Manchester United in 2017.
At 60, Mourinho strikes a more measured tone when it comes to speaking on his own success.
“My concern isn’t marking my place in the Roma history books,” he told Sky Sports. “It’s helping these kids (players) to grow, to achieve important things.
“It’s also helping the Roma fans who have given me so much since day one. It’s an immense joy to get to another final.”
It is quite startling that Mourinho has more European titles than Sevilla head coach Jose Luis Mendilibar has total games managed in those same competitions.
Having only joined Sevilla two months ago on a short-term contract after the sacking Jorge Sampaoli, the 62-year-old’s career is already peaking.
Like Roma, Sevilla are short of finishing in LaLiga’s top four, but the Andalusians have overgone a remarkable turnaround having flirted with relegation earlier in the campaign.
Mendilibar, Sevilla’s third different manager this term, took over with the club two points clear of the relegation zone but they are now just a point off seventh place going into the final round of domestic fixtures this weekend.
“People didn’t expect we would do something like this and we have achieved it,” said Mendilibar, who has lost just twice in 11 league games and claimed the scalp of Manchester United in the previous round.
The stakes couldn’t be any higher – in stark contrast to what Mourinho said of this competition 10 years ago that became infamous.
“If I win the Europa League it will be a big disappointment for me because I don’t want to play in it,” he said on being re-appointed by Chelsea. It was seen as throwing shade on his predecessor Rafa Bentez who weeks earlier as Blues interim coach won the 2013 Europa title.
At Roma, he is demonstrating precisely what Daniel Levy had hoped he would achieve at Tottenham.
Twelve months ago, he guided Roma to their first trophy in 11 years, beating Feyenoord in the Europa Conference League final.
The feat made him only the third manager – after Udo Lattek and Giovanni Trapattoni – to have won all three existing major European trophies.
It also marked him as the first to achieve the UEFA treble by winning the Champions League, UEFA Cup/Europa League, and Europa Conference League – in place of the defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
Even with Financial Fair Play regulations dictating that Roma could only spend £6m in the January transfer window, Mourinho has guided his side to back-to-back European finals.
The Italian club could win a major European title in consecutive seasons, which has been achieved on four previous occasions – Inter Milan in 1964 and 1965, Milan in 1968 and 1969, Juventus in 1984 and 1985, and Milan again in 1989 and 1990.
Their failure to land a Champions League berth via their position in Serie A was confirmed at the weekend after a 2-1 defeat at Fiorentina.
Sixth in the table, another season in the Europa League is not yet guaranteed if results go against them on the final day, with Juventus only a point behind them.
At the end of a long, arduous season it is still all to play for – as always when it comes to Mourinho in May.
Sevilla stand in his way. The Spanish outfit have won the competition six times, the most of any club in history, and on each occasion they have reached the final.
Should they win their seventh title here, only five sides will have more major European trophies – Real Madrid (16), Barcelona (12), Milan (nine), Liverpool (nine) and Bayern Munich (eight).
But Mourinho is no stranger to finals on the big stage. This will be his 14th major cup if they can go all the way in Hungary.
Should Roma lift the trophy, Mourinho will be the most decorated manager in the history of major European competition, going clear of Trapattoni’s five honours.
What happens when the immovable object meets the irresistible force?
Wednesday marks an opportunity for Mourinho to reaffirm his relevance in the modern game, when some have questioned whether he still warrants being mentioned in the same breath as other visionaries among the elite.
Earlier this month, Sky Sports reported that Paris Saint-Germain have shown tentative early interest in him as their next manager. The French champions will assess their options at the end of the season, with current head coach Christophe Galtier out of contract in 2024.
His future at Roma is uncertain heading into the summer, but while the Portuguese may consider a change of club, his sole focus will be on another masterclass, as the trickster of Sevilla.
“If they called, they didn’t find me,” was Mourinho’s light-hearted response when asked if PSG had contacted him.
He will be front and centre to the drama on Wednesday. With both records on the line on the banks of the Danube, expect fireworks.
Follow Sevilla vs Roma in the Europa League final via our dedicated live blog on Wednesday from 7pm.