Crestfallen, Jose Mourinho departed Roma’s training ground, Trigoria, for the last time with tears in his eyes and amid screams of ‘we love you mister’ from the fans who adored him and repeatedly sold out the stadium to support him.
The facts remain – the Giallorossi have had a difficult season.
Sitting in ninth place, 22 points behind league leaders Inter and five points behind fourth-placed Fiorentina, more was expected of a side that featured the likes of Paulo Dybala, Romelu Lukaku, Euro 2020 winner Leonardo Spinazzola and Leandro Paredes.
In fact, not since the 2002-03 season had the capital club collected so few points from their first 20 games of the season.
When the Friedkins purchased Roma in the summer of 2020, the first interview on the club’s website revealed their ambitions.
“This is already one of the biggest football clubs in the world – playing in possibly the most iconic city in the world,” said new owner Dan Friedkin. “We have the fans, the passion, the history and the ambition – if we win on the pitch and act in the right way off it, we can showcase AS Roma to millions of people in Rome and all over the world.”
The Friedkins – Dan and son Ryan – were clear they wanted a project that would grow the Roma brand and attract the attention the club deserved. It’s no surprise that Mourinho was chosen to take over as coach of the club in May 2021, much to the delight of Roma fans.
His signature captured worldwide attention and Roma began to attract more eyes.
‘A poor return on investment’
About £100m (113m euros) net was spent in the summer of 2021 to appease their new coach and Mourinho repaid the owners’ faith by winning the inaugural Europa Conference League, Roma’s first trophy in 14 years and the club’s first continental trophy since 1961.
But points in Serie A proved harder to come by and it was clear Roma were targeting qualification to the Champions League to bring in much needed funds to further the project. Two consecutive sixth-placed finishes were considered a poor return on investments.
Having accrued only 29 points this season, Italian football finance experts Calcio e Finanza calculated that during Mourinho’s tenure, each point in the league has cost Roma close to 3.5m euros (about £3m). Financially unsustainable.
Results aside, the football has also come under heavy fire. In the Europa League semi-final against Bayer Leverkusen, the Giallorossi were heavily criticised for their defensive style, progressing 1-0 on aggregate.
“It’s a shame that in a semi-final at such a high level, this type of play can be rewarded. They made things very ugly at the end,” steamed Leverkusen midfielder Kerem Demirbay.
Results are all that matter and Roma deserved to be commended for their gritty displays, even if they didn’t ‘entertain’. This season, however, the players looked tactically confused and limp in several matches, as evidenced in Sunday’s game at AC Milan.
Milan manager Stefano Pioli and Mourinho arrived under pressure having both been knocked out of the Coppa Italia the week before. It took Milan only 11 minutes to open the scoring and they ran out 3-1 winners after putting in one of the most impressive displays of the season.
Well prepared and perfectly organised, the Rossoneri knew exactly how to punish their opponents with effective patterns of play to ensure yet another Roma defeat. Mourinho simply cannot beat Pioli and has never managed it before.
In fact, the Portuguese has secured only four wins against the big sides in Italy during his time there. Too low for a team that boasts the third highest wage bill.
Mourinho’s ‘very real bond’ with Roma fans
The squad, it must be noted, has suffered too many serious injuries.
Roma have been without Chris Smalling nearly all season, Tammy Abraham is still not ready to return from a cruciate ligament injury and forward Dybala, their most important player, has already missed 69 days of action and 12 games.
Mourinho has been vocal about the injuries and on his inability to rely on players such as midfielder Renato Sanches, brought in on loan over the summer – but it begs the question why the club targeted so many injury-prone players, and how did Mourinho sanction it?
Averaging only 1.61 points per game during his two and a half years spent at the helm, Opta calculated that it is the lowest return of any Roma manager who has coached over 50 games in the three-points-per-win era.
Yet, despite the stats and style of play, two-time Champions League winner Mourinho developed a deep and very real bond with the fans he described as “the best in the world”.
He might have trained the biggest and greatest clubs in the world but he was taken by the Roma fans, by their loyalty and adoration for a coach who fought for and defended them. A synergy was created that saw Roma consistently sell out the stadium.
“The Giallorossi fans? They applauded even when the club was in trouble,” he said.
Mourinho frequently reminded us that despite the many offers he received to coach elsewhere, whether it be Saudi Arabia or beyond, it was Roma he chose. The trophy they did win together is tattooed on his arm so he can never forget what they achieved.
It is a love that Mourinho weaponised well, using it in the hope of prolonging his stay.
Referee rants ‘brought wrong kind of attention’
It is reported that the owners who spoke of “acting right” in their first club interview were dismayed by Mourinho’s many transgressions towards officials and considered a split after the scandalous drama that unfolded when they lost the Europa League final to Sevilla.
Their manager waiting for Anthony Taylor in the carpark to call the referee a “disgrace” brought the wrong kind of attention.
He remained on the bench for the final year of his contract but the attacks on officials did not cease.
Frequently forced to miss games because of his many suspensions, including the Milan match on Sunday, the Portuguese has taken aim at one too many referees during his time.
Last season he revealed he wore a microphone to “record everything” in Roma’s match against Monza to “protect” himself. Mourinho called referee Daniele Chiffi “the worst I have met in my life”, adding: “He is the worst. Technically he’s horrible. Zero empathy. Zero communication. Zero awareness.”
In December, prior to a match against Sassuolo, Mourinho explained: “To be honest, I will say that I am worried about the referee. We had this official three times and I don’t think he has the emotional stability to work at this level.”
His comments about referee Matteo Marcenaro resulted in an Italian Football Federation investigation.
Combining Mourinho’s combative behaviour with results on the pitch, the Friedkins not only decided against the contract extension the Portuguese hoped for but to pull the plug on this marriage. The time has come for a different and more financially sustainable project.
Daniele de Rossi, the ex-captain and Roma legend, will take over for the rest of the season and his signing has placated the angry fans, many of whom are furious at the decision to let Mourinho go.
And yet it is still wise to remember that he took a club that had not seen silverware for 14 years to back-to-back European finals.
He sold out stadiums, attracted great talents and developed a bond with the fanbase that will never be forgotten. To the Giallorossi fans, he will always be the special one.
Mina Rzouki is a European football journalist and broadcaster who is writing for BBC Sport this season. If you have a question on European football that you’d like to ask her, then fill out the form below and she will answer a selection of them in subsequent columns.
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