Jose Mourinho's words ring truer than ever as Manchester United return to the Champions League – Manchester Evening News

Man United are about to embark on their ninth Champions League campaign since they last reached the final in the competition 12 years ago.
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This is football heritage. Those four words, uttered by Jose Mourinho, mark the defining sermon of Manchester United in the last decade.
The words have entered the football lexicon yet they are synonymous with one club. Mourinho delivered the lecture two days after United's supine ejection from the Champions League at the round-of-16 stage by Sevilla in March 2018.
United fans were outraged at the defeat to an ordinary side that had changed coaches mid-season. Vincenzo Montella, in the away dugout for Sevilla's first triumph over United, was sacked the following month.
With emotions raw, Mourinho walked into the press conference room for his post-match debrief and reminded those who had assembled, "I sit in this chair twice in the Champions League and I knock out Man United at home at Old Trafford. I sit in this chair with Porto, Man United out. I sit in this chair with Real Madrid, Man United out. It is not something new for the club."
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Two days later, Mourinho doubled down. The football heritage he was referring to was United's European record. "Since 2011: in 2012: out in the group phase, the group was almost the same group we had this season. Benfica, Basel and Galati from Romania. Out in the group phase.
"In 2013: out at Old Trafford in the last 16 – I was on the other bench. In 2014: out in the quarter-finals. In 2015: no European football. In 2016: comes back to European football, out in the group phase, goes to Europa League and on the second knockout out of the Europa League.
"In 2017: play Europa League, win Europa League – with me – and goes back to Champions League. In 2018: win the group phase with 15 points out of a possible 18 and loses at home in the last 16.
"So in seven years with four different managers, once not qualify for Europe, twice out in the group phase and the best was the quarter-final. This is football heritage."
In one excoriating press conference, Mourinho cut the club down to size. United were trailblazers who became the first English club to venture into the European Cup in 1956, suffered unimaginable loss in the slushy snow of Munich in 1958 before becoming the country's first winners a decade later. That was all inconsequential to Mournho.
And he had a point. United have reached two Champions League quarter-finals in the last 12 years under the management of David Moyes in 2014 and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2019.
Underperforming in Europe was not just a symptom of the post-Ferguson era, either. United were eliminated from the Champions League twice in the last 16 in 2004 and 2005 and finished bottom of their group in 2005-06.
Ferguson squandered a dynasty after the Treble in 1999. He overestimated Real Madrid with cautious tactics at the Bernabeu in the quarter-finals in 2000 and, back at Old Trafford for the second leg, United never recovered from Roy Keane's own goal. Madrid was the white whale Ferguson could not slay. They ended United's European campaigns in 2003 and 2013.
Since Ferguson headed upstairs, United have failed to qualify for the Champions League on four occasions. When they were back in the Champions League in 2015 and 2020, they were relegated from the group stage to the Europa League.
Since Barcelona schooled them in the 2011 final at Wembley, United's Champions League record reads: group stage, last 16, quarter-finals, group stage, last 16, quarter-finals, group stage, last 16.
What undermines United's constant proclamation they are the biggest club in the world is their lack of European Cups. Real Madrid won as many as United have in their history under Zinedine Zidane between 2016-18. Liverpool have twice as many as United's three cups and Chelsea are only one behind, having grasped those ear-shaped handles twice within a decade.
United have not won the Champions League since tears of joy were shed in the Moscow rain in 2008, the first of three final appearances in four years. United had a chance against Pep Guardiola's Barcelona in Rome in 2009 but were tactically naive. At Wembley in 2011, United were Barca's patsies.
The days when United were top seeds in their Champions League group are long gone. That privilege is granted to the European Cup and Uefa Cup holders, as well as the champions of the continent's major leagues. United have not been champions since 2013.
The duels with Bayern Munich capture the imagination. Two great clubs with great history in the competition and with each other. Istanbul is always a test of a player's mettle and Denmark is a core United supporter territory. Galatasaray and Copenhagen have beaten United in the past.
Supporters should relish a testing draw. Better that than some humdrum novices with little pedigree in the competition. A sense of occasion at such an early juncture would fuel the excitement.
Erik ten Hag has a finer Champions League record than United in the last 12 years. His Ajax were seconds away from the final in 2019 until Lucas Moura's left boot sent Tottenham to their first ever final. Gallingly for Ajax, they had outclassed the might of Real Madrid and Juventus in the last 16 and quarter-finals.
United cited Ten Hag's Champions League record among the pros of his appointment. Just as relevant is Ajax's record under Ten Hag post-2019: two group-stage eliminations and a round-of-16 loss to unfancied Benfica.
English clubs have almost monopolised the Champions League since the end of Real Madrid's hegemony in 2018. Liverpool have been in three of the last seven finals, including the all-English encounter with Tottenham in 2019, there was a second Anglo duel between City and Chelsea in 2021 and City's name was carved onto the European Cup for the first time in June.
United have barely strayed close to a fourth European Cup in recent memory. For 64 fleeting seconds at the Allianz Arena in 2014, they believed Patrice Evra's piledriver would salvage their season. Moyes sensed unlikely immortality. Then Mario Mandzukic equalised and Bayern Munich efficiently saw off a spirited United 3-1. That was Moyes's penultimate match in charge.
Solskjaer's zenith was in Paris with Marcus Rashford's heart-stopping stoppage-time penalty five years later. United defied all expectations to recover from 2-0 down in the first leg and progress 3-3 on aggregate via the away goals rule, despite a slew of senior absences.
In the dressing room afterwards, Solskjaer posed with Ferguson and Eric Cantona. Cantona had antagonised the narky Neymar in the Parc des Princes stands. It felt like United were back.
A return to Camp Nou, the scene of United's and Solskjaer's panacea, in the next round beckoned. Some thought it was written in the stars. The stars did not align. Barcelona battered United 3-0. United were not back.
Cristiano Ronaldo suggested the European Cup be renamed the 'CR7 Champions League' after he got his hands on it for a fifth time in 2018, yet his homecoming could not rouse United. Ronaldo tallied six goals in five group stage games in 2021, his two added-time strikes against Villarreal and Atalanta highlights. But he was not as clinical against an obdurate Atletico Madrid in the last 16.
Diego Simeone, the Atletico coach, ran down the Old Trafford tunnel as missiles rained down on him more torrentially than the Manchester weather. It was reminiscent of Mourinho's own victory charge with Porto in 2004.
United went into the tie under the interim management of Ralf Rangnick, once a Champions League semi-finalist with Schalke in 2011. Atletico won 1-0 with a goal scored in the first half.
That is football heritage.


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