Juan Mata is convinced Manchester United have the right man in Jose Mourinho to take them back to the top.
After two false starts to the post Sir-Alex Ferguson era with immediate successor David Moyes and then Louis van Gaal, boss Mourinho was brought in last summer to resurrect United, who are desperate to make it third time lucky with the self-appointed Special One.
Their first season under Mourinho hinges on Wednesday’s Europa League final against Ditch giants Ajax, with the winners gaining a pass to the Champions League — a bigger prize than the trophy itself. And Mata, who also played under the Portuguese at Chelsea, is confident he will lead United to victory in Stockholm.
“He hates to lose – and that’s a fact,” said the Spanish midfielder. “Obviously, if you’re the manager or a player for this club, you have high demands.
“You know, it doesn’t matter if Sir Alex Ferguson just left and it doesn’t matter about the size and quality of the squad, you’re always asked to reach the top. And I’m confident that, sooner or later, we can deliver that and the fans will be really, really happy again.
“Hopefully we can start from this final on Wednesday.
“Everyone has their own way, everyone has their own personality and their own way of thinking about football – the way to play and win. No-one plays football to lose. You can find a way or another way, then it can be a different approach and a different style, but the ultimate aim is to win.
“Jose knows how to do this and to be a manager at the top level you need to have that because nowadays in football there’s no patience. If you don’t win, you’re out. That’s how it is.”
Mourinho has won 11 of the 13 finals he has contested as a manager, winning trophies at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and United. The 54-year-old can make it 25 career trophies as a boss by beating Ajax, with Mata admitting losing is not an option for Mourinho.
“He’s been in so many finals and the mentality that he gives to the players, not just to be in a final, but to win that final, is very important for him and for us,” said Mata.
“We need to face this game with the right mentality and try to avoid mistakes as much as we can and try to play a very good game. That’s what Jose is good at, speaking about how we can do that mentally and how we can be ready mentally.”
Mata’s £37.1million sale to United was sanctioned by Mourinho at Chelsea, raising questions about the midfielder’s Old Trafford future when his former boss followed him to Manchester. But Mata, who emerged as one of Mourinho’s most relied-upon players this season until groin surgery interrupted his campaign, said the pair have got on in Manchester.
“As you’ve seen, there are no problems with the manager,” said Mata, who was rested by Mourinho at the weekend and is pushing for a starting place in the final. “So I think people will think less about these things this summer.
“We have a good relationship and I will always say that because nothing ever happened. We didn’t have an argument or anything like that.”
Mata admitted United’s players are desperate to avoid another season in the Europa League and get back to European club football’s top table.
United’s Europa League odyssey has seen them travel to Holland, Turkey, France, Ukraine, Russia, Belgium and Spain — a gruelling campaign Mata and his team-mates do not want to repeat next season.
“The Champions League is the best competition and it’s a competition this club should be playing in every season,” said Mata. “We watch the Champions League as a squad when we’re away. It’s normally at dinner time — around the table we have something to eat and watch the Champions League, wishing next season that we’re there.
“When you come to such a club you dream about winning the biggest things, which is the Premier League and Champions League. I haven’t done it so far, but I can do it in the future and hopefully the near future.
“Now we have the chance to win probably the biggest thing since I came here.”