José Mourinho is Rome-bound: Can he re-invent himself in Italy?

May 12, 2021

When José Mourinho was sacked by Tottenham Hotspur some three weeks ago, the speculation regarding his future was natural. His stock as a manager had been dropping with every job, so when he left Spurs with no trophies, he finally blotted his reputation of being a serial winner. He seemed to have reached the nadir of his managerial career, and it was hard to extrapolate where he would go next, or how long before we’d see him again in the public sphere.

Alas, the Special One turned out to have yet another ace up his sleeve.

A little over a week after his dismissal from Spurs, Mourinho was announced as part of talkSPORT’s UEFA Euro 2020 team for the months of June and July. The British sports radio station had José photographed all smiling and charismatic in what felt like mere minutes since he got the sack – as if the Spurs stint was little more than a fever dream. There was barely time to take this development in before another bombshell dropped on May 4 – Mourinho was announced as the new manager of AS Roma from next season on a three-year contract.

No degree of superlatives can justify just how out of the blue this news felt to have arrived. From local communities to global media outlets, no one saw this coming. When Roma’s current manager, Paulo Fonseca, was announced to be leaving at the end of this season, almost all eyes fell on Maurizio Sarri to replace him, who had been out of a job since getting the boot from Juventus at the end of last season. The 62-year-old was widely accepted as the next Roma boss, but even then the clamour would have been very feeble had anyone else been appointed in his stead. Anyone else, but José.

Despite being at the centre of a football-mad community, Roma have had little success in recent years. They have had a few highs – occasionally playing distant runners-up to Juventus, that comeback win against Barça in the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League when they also made the semi-finals – but much like Spurs, they remain trophyless since 2008. They have won the Scudetto just three times in their 93-year-old history, the last of which came in 2001.

Moreover, financially, the club do not boast many positive numbers either, having recorded a €204 million loss last October. A series of misaligned transfer decisions have left the squad in dire need of an overhaul, with a lot of out-of-favour players, the likes of Javier Pastore, Federico Fazio, Juan Jesus and loaned-out players Steven Nzonzi, Alessandro Florenzi, Cengiz Ünder, and Justin Kluivert, proving difficult to offload.

Spurs aside, Mourinho’s short-term success usually demands reinforcing the squad with players who would require little development and fit straight into the team, and Roma do not seem to be the ideal place to offer him that. The question, then, remains – why is José going to Roma? More importantly, why have they chosen him?

Truthfully, your guess is as good as mine. Roma’s current president, Dan Friedkin, recently bought the club for €591m, in August last year. He’s also a Hollywood movie director and producer, so of course, he had to choose a guy with a flair for the dramatic. By all accounts, the reasoning the Roma owner has provided for Mourinho’s appointment is not too dissimilar to the one Spurs’ chairman Daniel Levy gave when he chose Mourinho for his club seventeen months ago – that he was blown away by Mourinho’s desire to win and his passion for the game. We all know how it turned out the last time, so is it really just another case of a billionaire owner looking from the outside of the football-sphere and picking Mourinho because of the weight his name carries without looking at the reality of his present work? Only time will tell, I suppose.

Although, one thing to remember here is that Mourinho’s name currently carries a lot more respect in Italy than it does in England. While people there are not oblivious to his recent antics they also remember, perhaps more keenly than everyone else, what he did the last time he was there.

The last time he walked out on the pitch as manager of an Italian club, Mourinho left with a Champions League medal, having completed a historic triplete (Serie A, Coppa Italia, UCL) with Inter Milan in the 2009-10 season that earned him a move to Real Madrid. The Inter Ultras at San Siro still chant odes and hang banners in his name.

In recent years, Serie A has proven to be a place where players can prolong their careers at the top level. As José accelerates towards the winter of his own, perhaps he considers Italy to be the place to at least help him eke out one more hurrah, if not catapult him back into being a relevant manager at the very top.

One thing is for sure, though – I cannot wait for next season to begin to see how José fares in Rome. Such is his allure – even when he isn’t at the top of his game, he’s a big enough name to attract attention wherever he goes.

Of course, this is unlike any other job he has picked up in recent years. There is very little evidence to suggest that he’ll get the high-end players he usually prefers, but Tiago Pinto, Roma’s recently appointed Sporting Director, was crucial in bringing Mourinho to the club; he must have provided him some assurances regarding the nature of player acquisitions the Giallorossi will be targeting in the summer. It will also be interesting to see how José deals with the likes of Pedro, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Chris Smalling, all of whom have had recent difficult experiences with the Portuguese.

Now that Inter Milan have ended Juventus’ nine-year reign at the top, Serie A is poised to be a very tasty prospect next season. AC Milan, Napoli, Lazio, Atalanta – all have raised their game in recent years. We’re yet to see what becomes of Juventus come next season but regardless, the race to the top of the table will likely be much more exciting and heavily contested than it has been in the past decade. In all of this, José will really have to adapt his style of management quickly and go about his business much differently than he usually does. Recent experience provides very little indication of that happening, but hey, when in Rome…

Written By
Anshuman Joshi

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