José Mourinho’s Roma have a perfect record with six wins in six games in all competitions so far this season and Louis Miller wonders if the Special One can replicate past glory in the capital.
“Roma is a difficult club [to coach],” former manager Fabio Capello told La Presse shortly after Mourinho’s arrival in the Italian capital. “But he [Mourinho] exceeds in difficult places. I hope for Roma fans that he does as well as he did at Inter.”
Football in Rome is more intense than in any city in the Peninsula. The city has daily newspapers and numerous radio stations dedicated to the sole purpose of analysing every aspect of the club. The coverage is unrivalled anywhere else in Europe, with the possible exception of Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona.
“When I play for Italy, I’m considered an important player, but in Rome, I have to be careful because everything I do or say is under the microscope,” former captain Daniele de Rossi told ESPN during his playing days. “Everything gets twisted and inflated and turned into lies. You have to live with the lies, the most shameful lies.”
Fans of Roma, who have not tasted success in Serie A since 2001, crave the glory of the northern, traditional powerhouses, as the side from the capital has only won the Scudetto three times in their proud history.
Mourinho, who himself hasn’t won a domestic league title since 2014-15, is still held in high regard in Italy after steering Inter to an unprecedented treble in 2010. The Portuguese coach is never happier than when able to deflect pressure from his team and create an ‘us against the world’ mentality for both his players and the fans.
Even his successful spell with Inter (a team way above their rivals at the time) wasn’t without controversy. He was banned for three games (and risked a refereeing revolt from officiating other Inter games) after performing a handcuff gesture to cameras in protest against decisions that led to two red cards in a match versus Sampdoria. So it’s hardly a surprise Mourinho is thriving in the Roman spotlight.
Despite his recent struggles in England, Mourinho’s side has started the season in fine form. So far, his Roma has a perfect record from their opening three Serie A games and successfully navigated past Trabzonspor 5 – 1 on aggregate in the Conference League playoff before their 5-1 win in the first game of the group stage on Thursday. Not only has he hit the ground running, but he also seems to be enjoying his football, at least for now.
“I wasn’t 58 years old, but 10 or 12 or 14, when you start dreaming about a career in football. Running as I did, I was running like a child,” said Mourinho, after one of his trademark touchline sprints in the 2-1 win over Sassuolo. Stephen El Shaarawy’s 91st-minute winner meant his side maintained their 100 per cent record, and Mourinho couldn’t hide how ecstatic he was at leaving his 1,000th game with all three points.
Even in the preseason, the signs that Mourinho had got his side singing from his hymn sheet were evident. A late challenge from his former pupil Pepe sparked a brawl against Porto back in July. Then only a couple of weeks later, Pellegrini and Mourinho himself were sent off for furiously protesting the referee’s decision to let Alex Moreno’s goal stand after the Betis player appeared to handle the ball. Roma went on to lose the game 5 – 2 and finish with eight men.
Not only is he enjoying himself, the former Tottenham and Manchester United manager is also still playing his vintage mind games. Despite his side sitting joint top of the table, ahead of champions Inter, he was in no mood to let anyone suggest his side might be equipped for a title challenge.
“Karsdorp was dead on his feet with cramp and could not keep up with Traore and Boga. If I had had Ibanez on the bench, I would have put him on,” Mourinho said. “This is the difference between us and the others – did you see some of the players Simone Inzaghi brought on with his five changes?”
For all of Mourinho’s moaning, this Roma side is surprisingly well suited to the Portuguese coaches’ style of play. Captain Lorenzo Pellegrini, Bryan Cristante and Jordan Veretout offer plenty of industry in the midfield, while former Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham has hit the ground running and looks like he will complement the physicality of Eldor Shomurodov perfectly up top.
Despite their troubled past, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has started the season in fine form. El Shaarawy’s late goal indicates he can offer the team something from the bench after a couple of years in the wilderness in China.
With only three games played in the league, the pressure on the Giallorossi will no doubt intensify. Although Mourinho can do as Capello said and exceed under challenging places while bringing Roma and himself back to the top, it could yet prove to be a match made in heaven and one to propel him to the level of a Roman Emperor.