As Sevilla stride out on Wednesday night, with the glare of the continent upon them, they will uphold a proud tradition which has snowballed during the 21st century: semi-final victory over Juventus saw them reach the final of the Europa League – or its predecessor, the UEFA Cup – for a seventh time; two more than any other club.
Los Rojiblancos have won the competition on each previous occasion they have reached its finale, with the first success coming in 2006, when current captain Jesus Navas played his part in lifting the trophy at the tender age of 20, after Sevilla saw off the challenge of Middlesbrough.
The most recent win came three years ago, and now the most successful side in the tournament’s history conclude a troubled 2022-23 campaign by travelling to Hungary – a nation hosting its first major European final since 1985.
Eliminating both Manchester United and Juve en route, Sevilla’s success in the semis featured a 25th win from their last 28 Europa League matches at Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan, but they must now prove their mettle on neutral soil against particularly obdurate opponents.
Like Roma, but to an even greater extent, the Andalucian club have endured a difficult domestic season, and they journey east under their third coach of the campaign: understated Basque boss Jose Luis Mendilibar. Thanks to his steadying influence, Sevilla have seen off the threat of relegation from La Liga, and their fortunes have distinctly improved since his appointment.
Though they could still fall short of securing a top-half finish in Spain, Sevilla have lost just twice during Mendilibar’s spell as head coach – most recently on the Primera Division’s penultimate matchday, at the hands of Real Madrid – and are one win away from claiming a seventh continental title.
Victory in Budapest would mean only five clubs have won more major European trophies, and for those that believe in such things, the omens are good: the only previous meeting between Sevilla and Roma saw the Spanish side progress from the Europa League’s last 16 in 2020, before going on to lift the prize for a sixth time.
While Mendilibar – who will participate in his first European final – is hoping for Sevilla’s lucky number seven, his counterpart Jose Mourinho has already banked five major UEFA trophies to date.
Should Roma succeed this week, Mourinho will become the most decorated manager in the long history of European competition – moving clear of Italian maestro Giovanni Trapattoni – and having helped the Giallorossi lift the inaugural Europa Conference League trophy last year, he would also be the first coach to win the Europa League with three different clubs, following prior triumphs with Porto (2003) and Manchester United (2017).
Though the Eternal City club lost to Inter in their only UEFA Cup final appearance, back in 1991, Wednesday’s will be Roma’s fifth European final overall, with the most recent seeing Mourinho’s men beat Feyenoord in Tirana this time last year.
Despite some dire recent form in Italy, a side which progressed through the autumn group stage before knocking out Red Bull Salzburg, Real Sociedad, Feyenoord (again) and semi-final victims Bayer Leverkusen could yet claim continental titles in consecutive seasons.
Victory over the latter came thanks to a single goal scored by young Roman Edoardo Bove at Stadio Olimpico, with that first-leg lead being defended doggedly in Germany seven days later – a Mourinho masterclass in parking the bus.
Sitting sixth in Serie A with one game remaining, Roma can finish fifth at best following a 2-1 reverse at fellow European finalists Fiorentina last weekend. In fact, some have accused the Giallorossi of tanking during a run featuring three losses and four draws domestically, so the stakes are incredibly high this week.
The Europa League winners, of course, gain direct entry into the 2023-24 Champions League group stage, and Mourinho appears to have bet on everything coming good at the Puskas Arena, before – if rumours are to be believed – walking off into the sunset with reputation restored.