Jose Mourinho has noted that Manchester United could end up prioritising their exploits in Europe over the Premier League if they beat FC Rostov in the Europa League last 16.
Man United cruised past Saint Etienne in the last 32, claiming a 4-0 aggregate win, to set up a clash with the Russian side.
Last weekend’s 1-1 draw with AFC Bournemouth saw Mourinho’s men once again fail to move out of sixth spot in the Premier League; they remain three points off fourth spot with a game in hand.
And Mourinho, speaking at a press conference ahead of the clash with Rostov, noted that he could end up placing more emphasis on the Europa League during the latter stages of the season.
“First is impossible. Second is possible and we have to fight for it, but the Europa League is very difficult,” he said.
“But it’s a target for us and if we beat Rostov and we find ourselves in the quarter-final, then we have to think really seriously about the Europa League because in this moment we are still in the last 16.
“Last 16 [in the Europa League] we are still far. But when a team gets in the last eight and you go to the quarter-final draw, quarter-final, you smell the final.
“And then in a certain period of the season I have to analyse my team, the players, the conditions of everyone and if I have to make choices.
“I have to make choices, but choices that I would always share with my owners, with my board but it’s not for now, for now it’s just play, play against Bournemouth, play against Rostov, play against Chelsea, play against Rostov again and then let’s see how we are in all the competitions, and try to make the right decisions.”
Mourinho propelled himself into the global spotlight by winning this competition with Porto back in 2003, and he will know – 13 years later, looking to once again make a statement to the watching world – that any quarter-finalist begins to visualise claiming the trophy.
Prioritising the Europa League would be a first in United’s history; an outsider may question Mourinho’s decision to background the Premier League and focus instead on a second string competition, but ask yourself this: would you rather reach the Champions League by claiming the ‘fourth place’ trophy or through winning an actual European competition?