Jose Mourinho said Tottenham Hotspur had been rewarded for taking the Carabao Cup seriously as they moved to within one game of a first trophy in 13 years with a semi-final win over Brentford.
Spurs have not claimed silverware since they beat Chelsea in the 2008 League Cup final and they were made to work hard before seeing off the Championship promotion chasers in this one-leg semi-final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Mourinho has won the cup on four occasions and goals from Moussa Sissoko and Son Heung-min ensured he now has the chance to make that five, having become the third manager to reach the final with three different teams.
“I came to England in 2004 and I remember that in that period I had to learn the meaning of the cups here and I always took it seriously,” he said.
“If there is any secret it’s to take it seriously. To respect what English football is, what English clubs are, what English lower divisions are.
“That’s what I hope to do on Sunday in Crosby against Marine [in the FA Cup].”
Brentford had beaten four Premier League sides in a run to their first major semi-final but they were behind after only 12 minutes when Sissoko headed Sergio Reguilon’s cross beyond keeper David Raya.
Thomas Frank’s side thought they had equalised after the hour when top scorer Ivan Toney headed in but the goal was ruled out for the most marginal of offsides when the striker was actually down on his haunches earlier in the move.
Spurs increased Brentford’s sense of injustice when Son raced clear to add a second after 70 minutes before the visitors were reduced to 10 men following Josh Dasilva’s foul on Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
Mourinho’s side will now meet either Manchester United or Manchester City the final at Wembley in April.
“If you see the winners you realise the big clubs want to win it,” Mourinho said.
“Who was the last winner apart from the normal top six? Swansea? I remember Manchester City winning a lot of times, Chelsea winning a lot of times, I remember United winning a few times.
“I remember Liverpool in finals, Arsenal. The big clubs care about it.”
Mourinho makes it his business to win trophies – and this competition has always been a building block in his strategy for success.
He regards the EFL Cup as vital in not just making his mark at a new club but also in giving his players the confidence that comes with securing silverware.
Mourinho’s first trophy, in his first season at Chelsea, was the 2005 League Cup. It was the first trophy of his second spell there too, as he won it in 2015. He then marked his first season at Manchester United by winning it again in 2017.
He believes that if this competition can end Spurs’ long trophy drought, it can be the platform for bigger things. He wants to rid the club of their “nearly” tag, of a reputation for falling just short of success, as they did most recently in the 2019 Champions League final against Liverpool in Madrid.
Mourinho always takes the competition very seriously and rarely fields anything other than full-strength sides. If Spurs beat either Manchester United or Manchester City in the final on 25 April, that policy will be fully justified.
“What I sense in the team is that desire,” he said. “I’m not saying a winning mentality, I’m not saying we are this or that.
“I just say we are honest people. Try to be serious, respect the opponents, and try to progress.”
This was ultimately a disappointment for Brentford in their first major semi-final but there is no doubt bigger things await this talented side assembled by manager Frank.
They were never outplayed at any stage of this semi-final and will certainly argue the merits or otherwise of the decision that saw Toney’s goal ruled out, a VAR verdict that brought a rueful smile from their manager.
He has a positive, confident team and it is easy to see why Brentford lie fourth in the Championship and will be promotion contenders once more.
They look good to challenge again after missing out to Fulham in last season’s Championship play-offs, and then selling striker Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa and winger Said Benrahma to West Ham.
Brentford have proved their pedigree by seeing off a top-flight quartet of Southampton, West Bromwich Albion, Fulham and Newcastle United in this competition – and while there is disappointment in defeat it will not dent their belief they can make a real tilt at reaching the Premier League.
Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho, speaking to Sky Sports: “It’s a game that takes us to a final at – probably, but I hope not – an empty Wembley but of course I’m very happy. We’ve had London derbies and other games but this is the match that took us to a final.
“The final is now in our pocket for three months. We have to wait for the final so we have to focus on what we have coming up. We have the FA Cup, the Premier League, the Europa League, so let’s forget the final for now. But when April arrives, we have to be ready and to fight for the trophy.
“The game was always under control. They had the offside goal, when the ball goes in the air you cannot press the ball, you just have to try to get to the first and second ball.”
Brentford boss Thomas Frank, speaking to Sky Sports: “First and foremost, I must say I’m very proud of my team.
“The first VAR decision, we were inches from equalising. It was an open game, we had a top attitude, we were brave and an equaliser wouldn’t have been a totally unfair result against a world-class team.
“If you want to go to a final against a top team, you need the margins with you but then they show class to get a second and after that it was game over. We need to remember Tottenham are a good team.”