It was confirmed on the morning of 16th January 2024 that Jose Mourinho and his coaching staff at AS Roma had been sacked with immediate effect, with former Roma midfielder and club legend Daniele De Rossi taking charge as the interim coach until the end of the season.
The two-and-a-half-year love affair is now over, having started with Roma breaking the internet back in May 2021 with his announcement — Mourinho would be replacing Paulo Fonseca who would end up in France at Lille. The first season in Rome was a success on the European front, beating Feyenoord in Tirana Albania to win the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League title.
That European journey had its ups and downs, the 6-1 defeat to Norwegian champions Bodo Glimt was disappointingly low. Roma would get revenge on the Norwegian side in the quarterfinals with a 5-2 aggregate win thanks to a dominating display at home in Rome 4-0 thanks to a hat-trick from Nicolo Zaniolo. In the semifinal, Leicester City were beaten over two legs 2-1 thanks to a goal from Tammy Abraham in the second leg. Zaniolo was the hero in the final as he got the only goal of the game, sparking jubilant scenes in Tirana and back home in Rome when the players arrived back from Albania the morning after the final.
In the league, it was a different story — after a great start that saw them win the first three games of the season against Fiorentina, Salernitana as well as a dramatic last-minute victory over Sassuolo, Roma then suffered defeats to Hellas Verona, Lazio, and then Juventus, sandwiched with wins over Udinese and Empoli. Roma’s form in the league would continue to stutter in 2022, finishing sixth in Serie A, one point ahead of Fiorentina in seventh, and one point behind Lazio who finished fifth with 64 points.
Roma spent a lot of money in the first summer transfer window under sporting director Tiago Pinto and Jose Mourinho. €41m was spent on Tammy Abraham, Marash Kumbulla and Roger Ibanez’s loan deals became permanent for a total of €38.5m from Hellas Verona and Atalanta, whilst €18.5m and €13m was spent on Eldor Shomurodov and Matias Vina. €11m was spent on Rui Patricio and the loan deal for Bryan Reynolds was made permanent for €6.8m. In January, loan deals were done for Sergio Oliveira from Porto and Ainsley Maitland-Niles from Arsenal. This first summer transfer spending spree cost Roma in the long run in the second and first half of the third season of Jose Mourinho’s tenure.
It was all a bit déjà vu in the second season under Mourinho, with the Portuguese veteran leading them to a European final in the Puskas Arena in Hungary, only to lose dramatically on penalties to Sevilla after some refereeing calls that did not go Roma’s way – yes, I am commenting on the non-handball call and Antony Taylor not issuing second yellows for Ivan Rakitic and Erik Lamela. Roma lost 3-1 on penalties after the game ended 1-1, with Mourinho suffering a first-ever defeat in a European final before proceeding to chase Taylor into a Budapest car park, calling him a “f*****g disgrace.”
In the league, same old story just like the 2021/22 season, Roma struggled for consistency and once again failed to finish outside of the top five. For the third season in a row, Roma would finish outside of the top five, and they would come in sixth again with the same points tally of 63 points, grabbing UEFA Europa League football on the final day of the season thanks to a last-minute penalty from Paulo Dybala against Spezia.
Roma was on course for a top-four finish in April, but the form was drastically poor with only seven points from the remaining eight league games after the win against Udinese on April 16th. One win, three draws and four defeats curtailed Roma’s season in Serie A as they put all the eggs in the Europa League basket. It was UEL success or bust, and in the end in Budapest, it was bust.
The Giallorossi had to be more sensible with the money in the summer of 2022 than they were in 2021. It was a lot of frees and loans and with only €8m spent on a player which was Zeki Celik from Lille. Paulo Dybala, Mile Svilar, Nemanja Matic, Andrea Belotti and Ola Solbakken were bought on free transfers, whilst Mady Camara, Diego Llorente and Georgino Winaldum were brought in on loan deals for the season with Llorente’s deal being made in permanent in January.
There was also an exodus of players leaving permanently, as Zaniolo headed to Galatasaray in January. Jordan Veretout, Pau Lopez and Cengiz Under all went to Igor Tudor’s Marseille, Felix Afena-Gyan, Robin Olsen, Alessandro Florenzi and Riccardo Calafiori, and Amadou Diawara all left the club permanently. Gonzalo Villar, Justin Kluivert, Eldor Shomurodov, Carles Perez, Matias Vina all left on loan, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan left on a free transfer to Inter Milan.
The third and final season of Roma and Jose Mourinho was a disaster and disappointment from start to finish. The summer transfer window was a positive and a negative at the same time as Roma shot themselves in the foot for the delay in trying to sign Marcos Leonardo from Santos who now has gone to Benfica. They were slow in trying to get deals done for other players including Gianluca Scamacca and Davide Frattesi, who went to Atalanta and Inter Milan. Duvan Zapata was also talked about, but Atalanta would not sell to Roma, and the Colombian striker ended up at Torino anyway.
It took until the third game of the season against AC Milan to see a no 9 in Romelu Lukaku on loan from Chelsea. Tammy Abraham picked up an unfortunate knee injury in the final minutes of the game against Spezia and is out too mid-2024. Leandro Paredes and Renato Sanches were brought in from PSG, Paredes permanently and Renato Sanches on loan, who has barely played due to injury. Dean Huijsen, Diego Llorente, Rasmus Kristensen and Sardar Azmoun all joined on loan and Evan Ndicka and Houssem Aouar joined on free transfers.
There was more of an exodus of players leaving with Roger Ibanez, Justin Kluivert, Cristian Volpato, Benjamin Tahirovic, Carles Perez, Bryan Reynolds, Nemanja Matic, Filippo Missori, Gonzalo Villar all leaving the club permanently as Tiago Pinto and Roma did their best to abide by the FFP rules. Ola Solbakken and Eldor Shomurodov left on loan, Solbakken is currently on his second loan out of Roma this season after his first loan at Olympiacos was a failure, plying his trade for Japanese side Urawa Red Diamonds.
The league form for Roma has been a big disappointment this season as they currently sit ninth in the league standings with 29 points from 20 games. They started the season with just one point from the first three games of the season, a 2-2 home draw against Salernitana where Andrea Belotti scored his first two league goals for the club after failing to score a single Serie A goal in his debut Roma season in 2022/23. Hellas Verona and AC Milan both beat Roma 2-1, with a 7-0 home win over Empoli papering over the cracks.
The form has been very inconsistent ever since, and Roma failing to pick up wins away from home has been the biggest disappointment. With just two away wins all season from ten games coming against Cagliari and Sassuolo, Roma have lost six of their away games this season and that has not been good enough. At home, it is a different story with six wins, three draws and one defeat coming to AC Milan.
In Europe, it was a disappointment also, finishing second in a group of FC Sheriff, Servette and Slavia Prague. A defeat in the Czech Republic against Slavia Prague cost them dearly in the race to finish top of the group and avoid the play-off round. That defeat against Slavia Prague was followed by a disappointing display away in Switzerland against Servette. Finishing second now means Roma will have to play a familiar foe against Feyenoord, who lost to Roma in the UEFA Europa Conference League Final and in the Europa League Quarterfinals over the last two seasons.
The football has been very hard to watch and relies on individual brilliance and hard work, and little in terms of chemistry and teamwork. Roma have been bailed out on many times this season in the latter stages of games due to individual brilliance. That type of football will only get you to a level and you need to evolve from that. Roma have been playing with a 3-4-2-1/3-5-2 since November 2021, as Mourinho switched from that from a 4-2-3-1 to use a strong defensive partnership of Gianluca Mancini/Chris Smalling and Roger Ibanez. That stunted Roma’s attack massively and we got to see that last season where they scored 50 league goals which was the ninth-best attack in the division.
In recent weeks, it has felt broken and quite formulaic in the way Roma have gone about the football under Mourinho, that has been no spark or individual brilliance and has become dour. Apart from the 2-0 home win over Napoli, Roma have struggled to perform on the pre- and post-Christmas break. They struggled to break down Serie B side Cremonese and scrapped to a 2-1 home win in the Coppa Italia, proceeding to lose to Juventus and draw to Atalanta in the first game of 2024 before exiting the cup at the hands of archrivals Lazio and falling to a 3-1 defeat to Milan, but they would bounce back in their first match under De Rossi with a 2-1 victory against Hellas Verona.
Mourinho’s record’s in big games against the top six read four wins out of 28 in all competitions which is appalling, having picked up one win out of six against Lazio and Maurizio Sarri in March 2022. Since then, Lazio have won three out of the next four Roma derbies in all competitions. Mourinho is winless in six against Stefano Pioli with four defeats and two draws. He picked up just one win in five against Juventus, at home in March 2023, one win against Napoli in five coming last month, and one win in six against Inter, coming in a 2-1 victory at the San Siro in October 2022.
It all came to an end on Tuesday morning when it was announced that Jose Mourinho was sacked by the club and later replaced by club legend Daniele De Rossi. Despite the failure to reach the UEFA Champions League, Mourinho’s tenure at Roma will be looked on fondly by Roma fans including myself. We can never forget the last two European campaigns, one ending in a trophy, the other in heartbreak.
He brought the city and the fans together; I have been to the Stadio Olimpico three times in his reign and all three times it was sold out. It has been a sell-out for the majority of Roma games when he has been in charge. Mourinho bought in a never-say-die attitude and players were to run through brick walls for him. His win rate % at Roma was his lowest in his career at 49.28%. 139 games, 68 wins, 31 draws and 39 defeats.
In the end, a change had to be made: the football got stale, the antics on the touchline and pre- and post-match press conferences and the constant need to blame the referee grew tiresome. It was exciting at first but grew very stale near the end. Fonseca did what Mourinho could not at Roma — secure a top-five position — and he was considered a failure by many fans. The pressure is now on De Rossi as he looks to lead the Giallorossi out of mid-table mediocrity and into the European positions.
By: Scot Munroe / @scot_munroe
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Tottenham Hotspur FC