How Marash Kumbulla responded to Mourinho methods to earn Roma half-century

When Roma won the race to sign coveted Hellas Verona prospect Marash Kumbulla in 2020, expectations were high.

Kumbulla had been of interest to many of Europe’s major clubs after a breakout season with Verona. Roma did not appear to be in contention until late in the saga, but they got the deal done.

Despite a promising start, though, including a goal in the Europa League group stage, Kumbulla’s first season in Rome was distinctly underwhelming. Especially after the sums invested into his signing, the club would not likely have been satisfied.

It has therefore been one of the brighter stories of the season to see Kumbulla improving at the second time of asking under Jose Mourinho. Much has been made of his new coach’s man-management skills not being effective, as seen with the regression of some other members of the squad, but in Kumbulla’s case, the approach and response has been appropriate. Sometimes it still works.

Mourinho admitted earlier in the season to using harsh words at the 22-year-old. Where others may have wilted, though, Kumbulla has taken it upon himself to heed his manager’s words and become a better player – earning anew the admiration of his boss in the process.

The Albanian was one of those who suffered in the 6-1 defeat to Bodo/Glimt earlier in the season. He was among the clutch of players to be banished to the sidelines after, only to get a second chance – which he has taken.

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In the second leg of Roma’s Europa Conference League clash with Vitesse in March, Kumbulla reached the tally of 50 appearances for the club. By the end of last season, there may have been doubts about whether he would even get there, but now that minor landmark is a well-deserved accomplishment and it seems like the start of something.

Kumbulla has had his ups and downs this season, and was still linked with a January exit. But over the past couple of months in particular, his trajectory has been steadily moving upwards. He has not necessarily been a standout, but has been shaking off mistakes and becoming more consistent. Before too long, he had earned his place as a member of Roma’s starting backline.

In fact, he is one of their most reliable defenders at present. Chris Smalling could rival him in that regard, but physical issues were disrupting him again earlier this year. Gianluca Mancini’s form has deteriorated this season and Roger Ibanez’s has been wildly up and down.

Kumbulla, in contrast, has gone about his business quietly and with maturity, to take steps towards fulfilling the potential he arrived with.

Whereas at one point it didn’t seem like it, Roma really do have something there to work with in the shape of Kumbulla. He has shown seniority beyond his years to stride towards the levels Mourinho is expecting of him – and it might just be working.

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