Jose Mourinho’s stint at Roma has come to an end. The timing of the announcement was a surprise, but the announcement itself wasn’t. It was a stint which lifted the spirit of the club more than anything ever has in a while, but it will leave a bitter taste in the mouth because of how ordinary and predictable it often seemed.
It would be unfair to judge the stint from the current season because that is when things turned out to be worse. While the first two seasons paint a positive picture because of the club’s performances in Europe, it begs a very important question about Roma’s reality and Mourinho’s reality – did they actually improve?
A very genuine case can be made of the fact that Roma’s global profile as a club rose due to Mourinho’s presence. Videos of the club’s fans singing in unity for Mourinho weren’t hard to find after games and people were talking about the club more often purely because of Mourinho and his ability to go far in European knockout competitions.
A special connection was forged between Mourinho and the Giallorossi fans, as they celebrated together in the wake of the Conference League title win and then battled together against the authorities in the so-called war against the referees. For a long while, they were in it together. When Mourinho spoke about referees and inefficiency, the fans were right behind him. It would be fair to be say that a connection like that is rare and even Mourinho would agree.
If not for a contentious penalty call, Roma may have won the Europa League last season. And while it would have been another trophy in Mourinho’s gilded cabinet and another one in Roma’s cabinet which was creaking before the Portuguese’s arrival, would that have been a symbol of progress?
Mourinho, for a while now, has become the master of the knockout games. Knockout games are far different from league competitions. 38 games provide a bigger sample size for progress of teams and clubs, whereas low sample size brings about a higher amount of varience in the output.
That isn’t rocket science. Roma didn’t make it to the top four even once despite having spent amounts that are usually unseen in Serie A. Against the bigger sides, Mourinho’s Roma played 28 games and could win only four. They one only a single one of the ten this season and that came against ten men Napoli. It is a clear indication of the fact that they were inferior to the rest of the sides around them, despite progress in European knockout games.
The lack of a tactical identity and the heavy creative dependence on Paulo Dybala wasn’t just visible this season. That was also the case last season, as the team lacked attacking verve in his absence and patterns were solely missing. It was due to La Joya’s incredible strike against Feyenoord last season that Rome progress in the Europa League and the goal was an incredible piece of brilliance. If not for that brilliant goal, Roma would have never made it to the finals of the competition.
There is obviously Roma’s stark reality to be looked at. Their operation in the Serie A means that they aren’t as financially able as Tottenham or Manchester United were. This makes the club an arena where sustainable building is hard to find, unless managers with a very specific playing style are hired and a consistent recruitment structure is followed. In that atmosphere, league progress is difficult and a reliance on knockout competitions is heavy. Mourinho’s stint followed the same pattern.
They finished sixth twice in the league, with Paulo Fonseca’s Roma having finished higher than that. Combine that with their poor record against the bigger sides and a severe lack of a tactical identity, it paints a dull picture of the league performances. The long-term picture of the tenure would be represented by a higher sample size and it isn’t promising at all. And that isn’t a new occurence for Mourinho, who also witnessed something similar at both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, perhaps suggesting that the Portuguese is now an excellent manager only in knockout competitions. That is exactly why he would still be an attractive catch for a national team.
Whether Roma’s American owners truly wanted progress from a league perspective or not isn’t known, but Mourinho’s stint did help in the rise of the club’s profile because of what he achieved in Europe and that cannot be questioned at all. But does Mourinho’s replacement come in with the assurance that the squad has a playing style that he can build on? It doesn’t seem so at all.
Kaustubh Pandey | GIFN