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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Will Jose Mourinho turn Roma into the challengers they want to be?

Mourinho Roma transfer targets
Mourinho is returning to Serie A to manage Roma next season. Neil Hall/EPA.

Italy is one of the few places left in European soccer where Jose Mourinho’s reputation has been largely untouched by his troubles of recent years. The Portuguese coach led Inter to back-to-back Scudettos and an historic Treble in 2010, leaving before he could sour his relationship with the fans who idolised him.

It was therefore unsurprising that Mourinho, with his managerial tail between his legs, wished to return to the country having left Tottenham Hotspur after just 17 months. What was surprising, though, was that Roma were the ones to appoint the 58-year-old who will take charge at the Stadio Olimpico this summer.

Roma are a big club, but they won’t be in the Champions League this season. In fact, they haven’t been in the Champions League since the 2018/19. Having made the competition’s semi finals in 2018, Roma have allowed their standards to slip, with Paulo Fonseca’s side currently slumped in seventh place in the Serie A table.

Mourinho has a lot of work ahead of him to turn the club around, especially with competition so stiff at the top of the Italian game right now. Antonio Conte’s Inter have the core of a team that will compete for years to come while AC Milan are resurgent under Stefano Pioli. Juventus have endured a dismal season, but they will surely be better after the summer. Meanwhile, Atalanta can’t be discounted as contenders.

There will, however, be a chance for Mourinho to mold Roma’s squad in his own image. Edin Dzeko is expected to depart the Stadio Olimpico as a free agent this summer while Henrikh Mkhitaryan could also be on his way out of the club. Given how badly the Armenian struggled under Mourinho at Manchester United, he might be somewhat relieved about that.

Sporting Director Tiago Pinto has indicated there won’t be much money to spend in the transfer market this summer and so Roma will have to be shrewd to find the players Mourinho needs, but there is a talented core of youngsters for the two-times Champions League winner to work with – see Gianluca Mancini, Marash Kumbulla, Gonzalo Villar, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Nicolo Zaniolo.

At Spurs, Mourinho’s conservative style of play grated. Fans had grown accustomed to a more dynamic, entertaining brand of soccer under Mauricio Pochettino and so Mourinho was never likely to satisfy them. Roma fans, however, only want success. Having gone 20 years without winning the Scudetto, they don’t care how it comes.

The appointment of Mourinho might be about more than just what happens on the pitch, though. Mourinho used to be the go-to guy for Europe’s biggest clubs, but his last two jobs have been in charge of project clubs aiming to clamber their way to the top. There was a sense that Spurs chairman Daniel Levy saw Mourinho as a way to paint his club as a bona fide member of the elite and Roma might have borrowed a page out the same playbook.

“We are supremely confident that Jose will be the perfect coach for our project, for both our immediate and long-term future,” Pinto insisted after news of Mourinho’s appointment broke. The 58-year-old has never lasted more than four seasons in one place, so to what extent can Roma truly plan on building their long-term around him?

Indeed, Mourinho will help inflate the profile of Roma as a club. It was only last August that new owners arrived at the Stadio Olimpico and they will be looking for a return on their investment on and off the field. ‘Brand Mourinho’ and all that comes with it will help with the latter even if he fails to deliver on the former.

One wonders what sporting success would truly look like for Mourinho at Roma. As Tottenham Hotspur manager, he was merely expected to get his hands on silverware. There was therefore a certain cruelty to the decision to sack him just six days before his first cup final in charge of the club.

The targets for Mourinho at Roma will be somewhat similar. Luciano Spalletti was the last manager to bring tangible success to the club all the way back in 2008. A trophy and a top four finish, taking Roma back into the Champions League, would surely constitute success even if Mourinho’s career will be ultimately defined by greater achievements. At this point, though, Mourinho is most attractive to clubs who want to reach the top rather than those that are already there.

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