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José Luis Mendilibar. SUR
The 'Chosen One'

The 'Chosen One'

José Luis Mendilibar completed one of the greatest ever turnarounds to bring back the Europa League title

Friday, 2 June 2023, 15:49

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When José Mourinho is last seen chasing the referee around the stadium car park after hurling his loser's medal into the crowd, you know you have succeeded as a manager.

José Luis Mendilibar completed one the greatest-ever turnarounds of a football team to bring the Europa League title back to Andalucía for a record seventh time.

This is a man who inherited a dysfunctional set of Sevilla footballers heading for the Segunda division back in March. Thursday night European football was just a distraction from the domestic dilemma.

The main target was surviving in La Liga. He took on a team that was just two points away from the relegation zone. It was a team that hadn't been inspired by the former managers of Spain and Argentina.

When the trend has been to go for young coaches in turtlenecks, sporting $100 haircuts with an iPad accessory and a stack of stats, Sevilla opted for an old-school manager.

In his first week he screamed himself hoarse at players on the training pitch, told those who jumped out of tackles that they were "soft" and those who received a booking for removing their shirt in goal celebrations that they were "dumb".

At the age of 63, into his fourth decade of coaching, he brought honesty and integrity to the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán.

The impact was instant. He selected his 'A-team' for the crucial weekend league games and used the Europa League matches to experiment and keep the fringe players active.

He'd previously fought relegation with the likes of Eibar and Alavés but had little involvement in European football. In fact his only previous experience was the Intertoto Cup when his Athletic Bilbao team lost on penalties to Cluj in 2005.

His debut was at the Theatre of Dreams where Manchester United sped into an early two-goal lead. A sign of what was to come was Sevilla forcing two late own goals from Ten Hag's team. When they received the buoyant Brits in the red-hot atmosphere of Sevilla, they produced a cavalier display of football becoming of United in the glory days.

In the semi-finals, they adapted to the style of Juventus - toughing it out against Max Allegri's seasoned pros.

When it came to the final, they out Mourinho-ed Mourinho and co.

The "Chosen One" had never lost a European final and his style has always been to park the bus until the trophy presentation.

It was a dire match. I wrote on Twitter that referee Anthony Taylor had strived all his career to reach this officiating pinnacle and he was greeted by 22 players acting like seven-year-olds, high on roller cola.

As all others were losing their heads, especially Mourinho, Mendilibar managed the game magnificently. He acknowledged his team selection hadn't been spot-on by making two half time substitutions. Younger managers may have panicked. He just strolled casually along the touchline, offering motivational tips to his players.

Mission accomplished! Relegation fought off weeks ago, a record seventh Europa League trophy for the club museum, a Champions League place assured, and Sevilla can deny a La Liga team a UEFA Conference place by finishing seventh.

Not bad for an old bloke coaxed out of semi-retirement on a three-month contract.

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