It is really beginning to sink in that Jose Mourinho – yes, that Jose Mourinho – is the new manager of Roma.
When the club appointed one of the most decorated coaches in history, fans and the wider football world were shocked. Now, though, the multiple title winner has disembarked in Rome and the real work is about to begin.
The euphoria for Mourinho’s arrival will last longer than it would for many other coaches, but he now must put his head down and come to terms with the size of the task at hand. He is inheriting a side that came seventh last year – 29 points off top spot – and knows it will be a long-term process to restore both the club’s and his personal pride.
But if anyone can do this, Jose can. Having admitted he feels indebted to repay the fans for their warm welcome, he must now begin to put the building blocks in place for a team they can be proud of once more.
Thus, as he settles into Trigoria, here are six of the items on the agenda for his new project.
Restore a clear identityEmbed from Getty Images
Roma made very little progress under Paulo Fonseca, despite several individuals improving during the reign of Mourinho’s predecessor and compatriot. Unlike at some of his other clubs, Fonseca’s blueprint simply did not translate into reality in Rome.
He often insisted that good teams do not change their style, but fans were left wondering what that style was. Fonseca’s Roma were not a cut-throat attacking team, nor were they overtly possession-based or counter-attacking – while nobody could have looked at that side and described it as defensively rigid.
Some may have concerns about the style of play that Mourinho employs, but at least the players should have a clear idea of what he wants from them. Just because his football is not the most attacking, does not mean he does not have a philosophy. Mourinho certainly does, and Roma are desperate to inherit any kind of discernible identity.
After the many defensive mishaps witnessed under Fonseca, many are actually enthusiastic about a more pragmatic style of play. Besides, Mourinho’s time at Tottenham in his most recent job showed that his attackers can still flourish; he transformed Harry Kane and Son Heung-min from very talented individuals into a deadly double act.
So, Mourinho’s tactics may not be the most thrilling, but there was nothing thrilling about losing practically every big game under Fonseca – and there can still be elements of excitement under Jose. If the plan works, it could be the ideal remedy to two years of mediocrity.
Help strengthen the squadEmbed from Getty Images
A club that just finished seventh, on paper, does not have much appeal for potential new recruits. A club that is managed by Jose Mourinho does.
As soon as the Special One was unveiled as Roma boss, the Giallorossi began to be linked with players of higher calibre than they could realistically have dreamed of. The likes of David De Gea, Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos were suggested in some reports, even if there was cause for scepticism in these instances.
While none of those players will arrive, seeing such speculation only boosted the mood around the club and the hopes that there may be at least one headline signing. Indeed, Mourinho has since revealed he is hoping to receive some welcome gifts.
“The first thing is to wait for some gifts. I hope that the bosses and director Tiago have some gifts for me, because it would be nice. It would be an extra motivation for me. And it would of course give me more potential to develop, or to start the process.”Jose Mourinho, via asroma.com
The 58-year-old will seemingly have greater control over the market than some of his predecessors, while working in tandem with general manager Tiago Pinto. This negotiating team should help make an effective pitch to potential signings.
The new coach does not have complete authority over this department, but is already trying to push for some of his suggestions to become signings, such as Granit Xhaka and Rui Patricio. These players would be sensible reinforcements – not just because of their ability, but also for their desire to play for Mourinho and Roma.
Mourinho is not a magician and will not be able to pull a Ronaldo out of the hat, but he will be able to persuade some useful talents to reinforce a Roma squad that is a few additions away from matching his competitiveness.
Instil a winning mentality and attitudeEmbed from Getty Images
Fonseca may have claimed that his side did not change their approach depending on who they were playing, but the results suggested that even if tactically not much was different, something likely was mentally.
The unbreakable habit that Roma got into against fellow top-seven rivals was an inferiority complex that Mourinho must now shatter. There is enough quality in the squad to be more confident, even if it is not a perfect group of players and there are better ones in Serie A.
Those latter points should not matter one bit when Roma step onto the pitch. They now have the chance to put all those burdens they built up behind them. When they take to the field against a Juventus or an Inter for the first time under Mourinho, no one will be focusing on their poor record in such games from the previous two years, but instead the spectacle of seeing the Special One doing battle with big rivals.
“I immediately felt this empathy with the owners, the director and they straight away reignited the fire and passion I have for my job.”Jose Mourinho, via GQ Portugal
Mourinho has said that the Roma project pitched to him by the Friedkins and Pinto has restored his passion for managing and the hunger within him. Now, he must emit that to his players, who need to become predators rather than prey.
Few managers have won more than Mourinho, so one of his absolute priorities is to convince his new group that they can win something significant under him too.
Assess the potential of young playersEmbed from Getty Images
One criticism that has lingered around Mourinho throughout his career has been of his apparent reluctance to promote young players. There have been a few exceptions – his use of some academy players for Tottenham in last season’s Europa League, for example – but in general he has tended to stick with the tried and trusted.
At Roma, though, he will find a squad in which many of its protagonists are younger. Roger Ibanez, Gonzalo Villar and Nicolo Zaniolo are all 23 or under, while captain Lorenzo Pellegrini only recently turned 25.
Below them, there are a number of prospects from the Primavera ranks who could be eyeing a first-team role. Ebrima Darboe is the obvious candidate after impressing with mature displays in the final month of last season, but he is not the only one.
Fonseca gave more debuts to academy products than the last three Roma coaches before him combined. Now, Mourinho must assess which ones are up to the task.
The Europa Conference League could give him the perfect opportunity to play those he rates in a competitive environment. If he used comparable players in the early rounds of the Europa League with Spurs, then he should in the competition one rung down from that.
But before then, pre-season will give him the chance to study what is available to him. Not all will meet his requirements – there have already been rumours that Tommaso Milanese, who scored for the senior team last season, will leave – but Jose knows he can only judge a player properly by working with them, which he is about to do.
First impressions count, so whether they have 50 senior appearances like Villar and Ibanez, or none, the younger members of the squad should give him something to think about.
Identify his leadership groupEmbed from Getty Images
One thing Roma have lacked since the departure of Daniele De Rossi in 2019 and Alessandro Florenzi a few months later is a clear leadership group. Long gone are the days in which those Romans would give their all alongside other passionate overseas players like Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman.
Fonseca could not get the best out of Florenzi, fell out with Edin Dzeko and ended up with a team bereft of leaders on the pitch. It was not entirely the coach’s fault, but his successor must now establish a better structure.
Pellegrini should remain the captain, but Mourinho must now identify his deputies. Does he have a role in mind for Dzeko again, or will the striker leave? It is worth remembering that Mourinho publicly praised the Bosnian when they were both in the Premier League, so it will be interesting to see if he helps any scars heal.
Bryan Cristante became vice-captain to Pellegrini by the end of Fonseca’s reign, but like Dzeko, his future is unclear. He has the appropriate mentality and improved vastly last season, but Mourinho must determine what role he would play in a different system.
Furthermore, if Xhaka arrives, it would add competition for Cristante’s place – not just in the team, but also in the leadership hierarchy. The Switzerland star has shown how much of a leader he is at Euro 2020 and could quickly take up a prominent role at Roma.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that to strengthen in goal, Mourinho wants a 33-year-old in Patricio. He could be another example of having experience at the base of the team to help the younger ones in front of him.
Defenders Gianluca Mancini and Chris Smalling also have the potential to become leaders, but it will ultimately be Mourinho’s decision to establish the hierarchy in order to ensure there are reference points all over the pitch.
Formulate a pathway to compete for trophies
There is still some bitterness from Mourinho that he did not get the chance to complete his project at Tottenham, being sacked only a few days before he was due to lead them in a cup final. Likewise, for Roma, it has been a long time since a project lasted long enough to see the resulting progress; Rudi Garcia was the last coach to enter a third season in charge, and he did not finish it.
Thus, having united over a three-year contract, Roma and Mourinho are keen to give this one time. It is clear that the coach is capable of winning trophies, but it is also evident that he is unlikely to do so immediately in the capital.
It has been 13 years since Roma last won a trophy (on the men’s side of the game) and they were well off the pace last season. Hence, Mourinho cannot go charging into this role expecting to be successful straight away – and he knows it.
“If you feel it as a project of ‘I am going to arrive tomorrow and win the day after tomorrow’ then that is not a project. But this is a project where the owners want to leave a legacy; they want to do something important for the club, in a very sustainable way.”Jose Mourinho, via asroma.com
But a project is only a project if there are clear goals and checkpoints along the way. It is now Mourinho’s duty to work out where he sees this team within specific timeframes.
To attain long-term success, short-term objectives are required. For that reason, not every signing should be a young prospect, but ones that can help lift Roma in the present while developing those around them.
One of Mourinho’s biggest tasks will be to manage the enthusiasm around him and to contain the expectations. He wants to make the fans believe – and the fans want to believe in him – but he also must remain grounded and be realistic.
In time, though, he certainly has the potential to turn this club into a winning one once again. Now, he must set out the plans for how – and when – he aims to achieve that.