Football

No Roman holiday this for Jose

José Mourinho. File

José Mourinho. File

When Jose Mourinho arrived in Rome in the summer — one of 12 coaching changes in Italy’s top flight, leading a manager merry-go-round — Roma’s trophy-starved supporters reacted to the shock appointment as though they had signed a superstar striker.

It did not matter that the Portuguese’s stock had fallen after underwhelming spells at Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Memories of Mourinho’s historic treble at Inter Milan over a decade ago meant he was still widely respected in Italy.

And things began promisingly. Mourinho led Roma to six wins from his six opening matches in all competitions, and it seemed like Italy would be the perfect place to revitalise his coaching career and restore his fading aura.

Results, however, soon took a turn for the worse, as the Giallorossi slid down to seventh in the Serie A standings, going a stretch of 13 games with just five wins. And one of Mourinho’s old habits returned — he looked elsewhere when searching for someone to blame for Roma’s slump.

Neither referees nor players escaped his ire, and following the 3-0 defeat at home to Inter earlier this month — a very one-sided affair from start to finish — Mourinho found another target. In a spiky news-conference, even by his standards, he took aim at journalists. “Your job is a lot easier than ours, which is why we earn a lot more than you,” he snapped after refusing to answer the first question from the media.

His television interview was no less fractious as he refused to take questions from pundits in the studio, before giving one monologue viewpoint of the game, adding in another excuse for the defeat. “Inter are stronger than us in normal conditions,” he told DAZN. “In non-normal conditions, they are much stronger than us. Last season, they were 29 points ahead of Roma. Today, with injuries and suspended players, it was very, very difficult.”

With the Inter mauling and a humiliating 6-1 defeat by Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt in the Europa Conference League in October, the mood in Rome had begun to sour. Roma did, however, relieve a bit of pressure on Mourinho by beating relegation-threatened Spezia 2-0 in Serie A on Monday.

The 58-year-old was in a more talkative mood after the victory, taking credit for one aspect of the victory and demanding more from his team. “I was pleased with the goals because we spent 25 minutes working on corners yesterday,” Mourinho told Sky Sport Italia. “I'm also pleased with the result but I didn't like the way we played. We were in control in the first half but we lost a lot of easy balls. We brought Spezia back into the game, when it was not difficult to close it.”

But despite the win, Roma is some way from its true objective of Champions League football, as it sits eight points behind fourth-placed Napoli. And Mourinho and his methods continue to attract scrutiny and criticism — from subtle turns of phrase in media reports (the once Special One) to more searing critiques from ex-players, former coaches and football writers.

The question all of them attempt to grapple with is: Just how could a manager who once had the world at his feet, and ensured everyone knew he did, suffer such a decline? This after all is a man with a bulging trophy cabinet, which includes the Champions League with Inter Milan and Porto, three Premier League titles with Chelsea and the LaLiga crown with Real Madrid against Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi’s all-conquering Barcelona.

Football writer Jonathan Wilson, in The Guardian, described Mourinho as “perhaps the last of the personality coaches... whose greatest gift was his capacity to inspire by charismatic authority”, arguing that “younger players do not respond to him in the way” an older generation did.

Wilson further contended that Mourinho’s “doom cycle” — “a season to build, a season of fulfilment, a season of recrimination and acrimony” — which took three years at most of his previous clubs was “[coming] around quicker and quicker” at his more recent clubs: from 18 months at Tottenham to barely 18 weeks in Roma.

The argument Wilson makes in the piece — the gist of it being that the game has passed Mourinho by — isn’t new. Several experts have pointed out that the 58-year-old’s philosophy of relinquishing the ball, especially in away games against top teams, because of a belief that the team with the ball was more prone to error, made him a below-average coach of attacking football. This has also contributed to a reluctance to press and counter-press the opposition and regain the ball — fundamental aspects of modern football at the top.

It’s ironic that less than two decades ago, Mourinho was truly revolutionary. He was among the first managers — certainly at that time the most successful — to implement tactical periodisation, a training method that rejected the traditional idea of working on each aspect of an athlete’s game in isolation.

So Mourinho drilled his players to develop fitness, game awareness and tactical knowledge at the same time — his Chelsea players have spoken about how a simple defensive overload routine (three defenders vs. four attackers in a counter-attack situation, for instance) was designed to improve the participants’ understanding of Mourinho’s tactical requirements but it also involved high-intensity sprints, jumps and changes of direction, vital aspects of physical training.

And yet in 2021, with everyone having caught up and moved on to more sophisticated methods of training automatism such as pressing triggers, a lot of Mourinho’s ways seem outdated.

It was therefore a surprise when Roma, which according to Mourinho wanted “a sustainable project for the future”, went for him. At his best, in his ‘Special One’ days, he was a guarantee of almost immediate success — the second season of trophies, as Wilson detailed in his “doom cycle” metaphor. But Mourinho does not have a track record of sustained growth or building for the future. So why a club which “didn’t want success today” would think he was the right fit isn’t clear.

What is clear, however, is that with new owners in place to work with, Mourinho will get time to turn things around in Rome as they look to strengthen the squad. But he has a lot of work to do — and he will have to prove that he can do something he has struggled with in the past.


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Printable version | May 17, 2022 4:15:08 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/no-roman-holiday-this-for-jose/article37982035.ece