It was unsurprising that after the chastening experience of Tottenham Hotspur Jose Mourinho returned to the country where he is still held in the highest esteem. While the Portuguese coach’s inglorious exit from Spurs last season called into question his reputation as one of the Premier League’s best managers, many in Italy still remembered him for the incredible success he enjoyed there a decade ago.
Now, though, there are plenty in Serie A questioning whether Mourinho is still as special as his reputation used to portray. After a good start at Roma, the 58-year-old’s team have won just one of their last seven fixtures in all competitions with the Giallorossi already 13 points off the pace being set at the top of the Italian top flight.
At first, Mourinho appeared to have won hearts and minds at his new club with a series of good results and passionate celebrations. The former Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid manager spoke about Roma’s history and restoring them as a force in the Italian game. The Stadio Olimpico felt energised, but only for a month or so.
Mourinho has always focused on the here and now over anything viewed through the prism of the long-term. He was, for over a decade, European soccer’s go-to-guy for instant success. His managerial pattern was extremely consistent - there would be an instant bump followed by tangible success in the form of silverware and then finally by a spiral. From Chelsea to Inter to Real Madrid and then back to Chelsea, this cycle almost always lasted three seasons.
More recently, though, Mourinho is burning through this cycle more quickly. He’s barely three months, never mind three seasons, into his new job at Roma and it already seems he might not be able to turn the situation around, with the 58-year-old an increasingly fractious figure in the Italian capital.
After a humiliating 6-1 defeat by Bodo-Glint in the Europa Conference League, Mourinho turned his fire on his own players. “They have more quality than us,” he said about Bodo-Glint, publicly bemoaning the lack of quality in the Roma squad. “Their first team is a much better team than our second team. I made these decisions, and in the end, they are better players than my players. They are a better team than my team.”
Not so long ago, Mourinho’s best quality as a leader was how he energised his players to fight for him. Now, it’s as if he’s only interested in fighting his players. Tottenham’s players looked disinterested towards the end of Mourinho’s ill-fated tenure and there are already signs of apathy in the playing squad at the Stadio Olimpico.
Another hallmark of a Mourinho managerial spiral is the breakdown in his relationship with the media. That has seemingly already happened at Roma, where a local radio station recently announced it will no longer send its journalists to club press conferences after an “unpleasant and inappropriate” response to a question from the Portuguese coach before the international break.
Roma originally saw their appointment of Mourinho as something of a coup given his track record in the Italian game, but the manager now in charge at the Stadio Olimpico is very different to the one who won an historic Treble with Inter in 2010. Both as a tactician and a character, Mourinho is a shadow of his former self.
In Tammy Abraham, Henrikh Mkhitayran, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Nicolo Zaniolo Roma boast one of the most potent attacking units in Serie A right now, yet Mourinho has been unable to give his team the structure and shape needed to harness them. This is especially concerning for a coach once renowned for his ability to install structure and shape.
Mourinho might claim he doesn’t have the players to achieve success at Roma, but he also said similar at Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. Either the Portuguese has lost the ability to maximise the talent at his disposal or he is the most unfortunate manager in European soccer, with fundamental squad issues following him from club to club.
Of course, there is still time for him to turn things around this season, but if the summer move to Italy was meant to put Mourinho back in his comfort zone, it hasn’t taken long for things to get uncomfortable for him. Italy was one of the few places left where ‘The Special One’ still seemed special. Just like in the Premier League, he now looks rather ordinary.