Jose Mourinho targeting unique treble that underlines scale of his decline

Having previously derided even Europe’s second competition, the former Champions League challenger is now aiming for success in the third tier instead

<p>Jose Mouinho’s Roma face Leicester tonight </p>

Jose Mouinho’s Roma face Leicester tonight

The Trapattoni treble has been impossible this century. Indeed, the concept may have been devalued by Uefa because it axed the Cup Winners’ Cup.

But it represented something at the time, to have won each of the European Cup, the Uefa Cup - at times almost a stronger competition then - and the late Cup Winners’ Cup. And only two managers had: the late Udo Lattek, who did so with three different clubs, and the aforementioned Giovanni Trapattoni, who won all three with Juventus and then added further Uefa Cups with Internazionale and Juve.

Now there may be another three-card trick: the Mourinho treble. And if that is not quite as pejorative a term as the ‘Mourinho season,’ Antonio Conte’s phrase for Chelsea’s disastrous 2015-16 in which the Portuguese was sacked with his side 16th, it is nevertheless a sign of how the mighty have fallen.

Roma could become the inaugural winners of the Europa Conference League which, for a club whose only continental trophies are the Fairs Cup and the Anglo-Italian Cup, is not something to be sniffed at. But for Mourinho, a double Champions and Europa League winner, it would complete a new clean sweep.

Uefa may salivate at the idea that its much-derided third competition, which many were primed to either ignore or mock, could have a box-office winner, in Mourinho. Maybe his legacy will be to give the Conference League legitimacy.

And certainly a semi-final line-up of Roma and Leicester, Marseille and Feyenoord can seem to give it a credibility (albeit, if it was designed to give greater opportunities for continental silverware for eastern European clubs, it may not fulfil its original purpose).

A semi-final with Leicester brings a reunion with Brendan Rodgers, master and apprentice in their Chelsea days and memories of the 2014 afternoon when Mourinho derailed his former ally’s title charge, aided by Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip. Arguably, however, the greater slide has been his own.

He is the manager defined by the Champions League: winner twice, each in unlikely fashion, with Porto the only side outside the five wealthiest divisions to conquer the continent in the 21st century and Inter winning a first European Cup for 45 years, semi-finalist eight times, managing 151 games in the competition.

He is the manager who, when he returned to Chelsea, mocked Rafa Benitez for winning the wrong kind of silverware. “I don’t want to win the Europa League,” he said in 2013, with the air of man whose jibes could come from a position of superiority. “It would be a big disappointment for me. I don’t want my players to feel the Europa League is our competition.”

Now there has been a change of tack. A constant of the Champions League has become a convert to the Conference.

“I said from the beginning this is our competition, my competition,” he said, drawing a distinction with Leicester, who dropped out of the Europa League. He is not responsible for Roma’s initial participation in it although, fifth in Serie A but with Fiorentina, Lazio and Atalanta on their coattails, they could have a return ticket to these stages.

Perhaps lifting the Conference League, to bring a fifth European trophy, would bolster Mourinho’s reputation as a winner; certainly a first trophy in five years could help suggest his glory days are not confined to the past.

That has appeared the case for the artist formerly known as the Special One. “He had the X Factor,” Rodgers said and if the use of the past tense implied he no longer has it, he argued otherwise. “He will always be a winner,” he added. “He is one of the greats of our generation.”

And yet recent years have brought new indignities. So has slumming it in Europe’s third tier. He has lost to Bodo/Glimt. Twice. One of them finished 6-1. There are explorers who have had less painful trips into the Arctic Circle than Mourinho.

He has nevertheless come this far. “I have been in many semi-finals,” said Mourinho, who is rarely slow to highlight his own record.

But each was in a more storied and prestigious competition. His last season in Italy, after all, yielded Inter’s historic treble in 2010. Then he was a manager described as potentially the best ever.

Now, his fortunes having declined since then, he is arguably damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t: the only thing worse than winning the Conference League is not winning the Conference League.

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