Are conditions right for a Mourinho revival in Roma?
Jose Mourinho was famed for not fully committing to trophy celebrations. At a time when he could have been involved in at least two or three per season, every season, sometimes he wouldn’t be there at all. When he didn’t, you knew he knew he’d outgrown his surroundings; it was time for something new.
The last time that happened was in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu, on May 22, 2010. His Inter side had just completed a treble, lifting the Champions League trophy after a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich. It was a performance which typified the very best of Mourinho at his peak, his side stifled and battled and showed they wanted it more, for their manager as much as for the club and themselves.
But while double goalscorer Diego Milito and other stars like Wesley Sneijder and Lucio were celebrating on the pitch, Mourinho was stood looking pensive and blank, as though he was keeping himself away from the moment deliberately, acknowledging that the end was nigh.
His new chapter was to be in the same surroundings, three years in charge of Real Madrid, attempting to end their obsessive wait for European glory as he had done for Inter. Mourinho was at his zenith, on a journey of conquering the continent geographically. During his time in Spain, he became the first man to win what are widely regarded as Europe’s big three leagues: La Liga, Serie A and the Premier League. He was a purveyor of trophies and a guarantee of winning them, so much so that he could more or less plot his desired path and tailor his route to becoming the best of all time.
That is why he pulled away from the furore and the ecstasy. It was the same in Gelsenkichen in 2004, after winning the Champions League with FC Porto. Chelsea was his future and so he distanced himself from what would soon be his past. Mourinho was brash, ruthless and arrogant at his best, but charm was his greatest strength. He won titles the moment he stepped through the door and convinced his players of his mentality; they loved him and they would die for him.
None of this was ever more evident than in a viral clip of him saying goodbye to Marco Materazzi, a defender who loved the dark arts as much as Mourinho, at Inter. The bluster of his persona was on hold in that moment, as the human side of this winning machine took over. With tears flowing from both their faces as they embraced, Materazzi’s head burrowed into Mourinho’s shoulder, their arms pumped with heavy emotion before the latter walked away with his face engulfed in grief.
But something changed in Madrid. Until then, his methods were taken as gospel, but only where a siege mentality were possible. He had won with teams who hadn’t won very much immediately before and took them to new heights, the underdogs against the world at Porto, Chelsea and Inter. Real Madrid were different; they wanted dominance and respect, to do things their way, which almost immediately jarred with Mourinho.
Simultaneously, his dogged, organised style of play was being outshone by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, creating a ‘Cain and Abel’ rivalry. He was no longer king, and players who were used to winning in Madrid — Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas and Cristiano Ronaldo — rebelled where others would have followed.
Despite league title success, Mourinho left the Bernabéu with a faded star and he has never really regained it. Subsequent spells at Chelsea, again, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all had their moments but ended in disaster; from once being untouchable, Mourinho has long seemed outdated.
At each club he faced opposition who were quicker, more energetic and threatening than his teams were and what once looked like throttling the tempo of a match at his best suddenly began to look like passively surviving and hoping for a reaction. Players, fans and pundits have all fallen out of love with Mourinho.
His has been a slow death in some ways, but he looks as though he is adapting to his surroundings. Italian football quite clearly suits him best. It has a slower, more defensive style and plays into his mentality in a number of ways. He is not the manager he was at Inter but having agreed to take over at Roma, he is walking into the best project in years. Roma are some way off winning Serie A, they last did so in 2001, and Mourinho will likely be given the time, as well as a small budget having already signed Rui Patricio from Wolves and come close to Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, to settle in and work like he did before. That is what he has specialised in, and he has proven, even in his more difficult, declining years, that he can win matches on his tactical nous.
When he ruled the world, Mourinho would arrive at clubs, gear everything towards immediate success, which would swiftly be achieved, and then leave, often walking away from a burning building. Roma are not hiring a man with that gusto, there is a sense that he owes them something for taking him at his lowest ebb. Although, as he pointed out at his unveiling, his nadir is higher than many coaches’ peak, including some of his predecessors at the Stadio Olímpico.
During his last three jobs in England, Mourinho was arguably a victim of his own prior success. Even at Tottenham, who have only won one trophy this century, he arrived billed as the man expected to change that. Now, expectation for him is as low as its ever been, and he can rebuild himself at the same time he does Roma.
Juventus were dethroned last season but new champions Inter are starting afresh after Simone Inzaghi replaced Antonio Conte. Nobody will see a title push coming from the capital, but the league is open and that is precisely when Mourinho has struck before, when the focus is elsewhere.
Stepping away from the very top shows a sign of the times for Mourinho, but it may also be exactly what he needs. The conditions he has inherited are perfect for him, and provide the best chance for a renaissance we have seen in a long time. It is doubtful that he’ll be detaching himself from any celebrations in future.
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