Manchester United are among the teams who will move from the Champions League to the Europa League after being eliminated from Europe’s top club competition following their 3-2 defeat at the hands of RB Leipzig on Tuesday evening, and Mourinho has alleged that the system currently in place shows that there is a lack of a level playing field for teams like Tottenham compared to Europe’s elite.
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Manchester United team will enter the Europa League at the round-of-32 stage – where Tottenham will also compete having emerged from two qualifying groups and a playoff game.
And as Mourinho says, the inclusion of a large swathe of Champions League group stage teams to the competition makes the tournament all the more difficult for teams of Tottenham’s stature to advance.
“It’s a point of principle,” Mourinho told the media ahead of Thursday’s home game with Belgian side Antwerp. “If it happened to my team, I would feel exactly the same.
“It is the way it is and honestly brings more quality to the competition. We cannot forget that. When you have eight new teams in the competition and eight teams that belong to another level, of course the level of the competition is going to improve, no doubts.”
Joining Manchester United in the Europa League will be the likes of Ajax, Krasnodar, Club Brugge and Dynamo Kiev – with multiple time European champions Real Madrid also a potential inclusion depending on the result of their Wednesday fixture with German side Monchengladbach.
“When the quality improves, the attention improves, and that’s a good thing for the competition but from the sporting point of view it’s not fair that a team that doesn’t succeed in one competition drops to another,” Mourinho elaborated further.
“It’s just the principle. In football, when for some reason we don’t succeed unlucky, next season. But it is the way it is and it’s not a problem.”
A win against Antwerp on Thursday will ensure that Tottenham are seeded for the round-of-32 draw, meaning they will avoid meeting Mourinho’s former sides United and, potentially, Real Madrid – but the Portuguese suggests that moving between playing the likes of Antwerp to Manchester United is too vast a chasm in quality.
“Manchester United become one of the top favourites to win the competition,” said Mourinho of his former side. “The teams that drop from the Champions League are always strong teams; teams that normally don’t belong to that level of the Europa League competition.
“Manchester United is one of the top teams. Their group was very hard: Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, Leipzig, very hard.
“We all knew it was not going to be easy for any one of them and we all knew that from that group a top team would drop to the Europa League.”