Jose Mourinho: The King Round The Decay

Upon his arrival to the main stage, Jose Mourinho seemed to err on the side of arrogance yet the continued success was there to back it up. “I am not one of the bottle” and “I think I am the special one”. The man from Portugal will be immortalised in his words and actions in football. Much like how Ozymandias, the titular character in Percy Shelley’s renowned poem, tried to immortalise himself with “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”. Except in that moment, all that was round Ozymandias’s statue was decay. Mourinho’s career lay in similar fashion at a time. After an outstanding 8 years, followed a sharp descent into mediocrity. 


By 2021, he found himself in Rome, a city that itself has immortalised the decay of its once great empire. His new task – to restore the team of AS Roma and, with it, his own reputation. The message of Ozymandias is that everything has its course of time and no matter the level of greatness, there is always a greater force that could quell that. The career of Mourinho is no greater testament to that. In his pomp, no one could touch Mourinho. His methods were innovative and his personality was challenging to the establishment. Schooled in the ways of Vitor Frade, tactical periodisation took Portugal by storm & Jose Mourinho was at the forefront. 


The Building of The Statue


The focus of integrating technical, physical and psychological sides into tactical aspects of a style of play. Before, they were viewed in prisms that were trained separately. Something that is common place now, was a source of wonderment to players like John Terry. The layout of sessions being set up prior to player’s arrival, so that the transition between drills were seamless, and always training with a ball.


Alejandro Garnacho: A Flower in the Desert


It was more complicated than that however. The synergy between the conceptual (playing style) and methodological principles (training methods) differ from coach to coach and the interaction is interdependent on one another. When you focus on the conceptual matrix of tactical periodisation and look at the external components that go into it determining a game model, it gives you the greatest insight into the degradation of Mourinho’s standing in the game.


Every manager has his own way of wanting to play but there will always be external factors that will come into determining how a manager will play at a certain club. The external factors that go into the game model include the footballing culture of the country and city, quality of players available, history of the club and contextual situation the club find themselves in. 


If you look at the clubs that Mourinho was going into initially and you look at the tactical, technical, physical and psychological demands he was going to bring, then it was a perfect fit. The personality of the Special One is encapsulated in why he only lasted 9 games at his first job – he asked for a contract extension at Benfica after a change of president and resigned when it was refused. 


He went to Uniao de Leiria off the back of this and the story of Mourinho would be enshrined from there. Going to clubs and taking them to levels beyond what they should be capable of. Porto winning the Champions League 2003/04 is perhaps the greatest achievement in the European competition this century. He began the juggernaut that is Chelsea today, even if he was backed by the mountainous millions of Roman Abramovich. 


Inside the Politicised World of Hungarian Football


His personality was disruptive and he was coming in to disrupt the hegemony, be it domestically as he had done with Chelsea amongst the powers of Man Utd and Arsenal or continentally, with Porto prior and Inter after. In that, he won the first treble with an Italian club, going down in history.


However, having all that success takes you to a level where you have to take on the biggest jobs. He tried to go for the Barcelona job before he went to Inter but they turned him down for Pep Guardiola. The run onto the pitch as he beat them with Inter in 2010 was a reference to that.


His first big break in coaching came in Catalonia, under the stewardship of Bobby Charlton, so to be rejected was something that would sting. His next place after Inter, Real Madrid, was probably made in recognition of this hurt. Him going to Madrid to not only go toe to toe with that Barca team but also bring the then ungraspable La Decima, it was the perfect job.


Antoine Griezmann – A Beautiful Functionality


Look back at those external factors though. The culture, the history and the quality of players at Madrid. The situation they found themselves in, going up against perhaps the best footballing side aesthetically, meant this was an altogether different challenge. A lot of it went against the playing model that Mourinho had established. Even if he said that he has an adaptable way of playing, it is clear he has a propensity to focus more on the defensive side of the game. His methods of motivation with the egos and politics of Real Madrid was always going to get short thrift.


Real Madrid are football’s royalty so to come in with the spirit of an underdog was always going to be swimming against the tide. Despite the Copa del Rey and La Liga, it ended sourly. One of which he seemed to carry wherever he went after that – be it a return to Chelsea, or the United job he had seemingly been prepped for or the Spurs job where he could write himself into the history books. The decay was beginning.


A Restoration of the Statue?


Roma, despite their big standing in football, are actually not a club that win a lot of things. The last time they won something, they were the most prominent team playing with a false 9. It was before the time of Pep and Messi. The king of Rome, Francesco Totti, was heading Spalletti’s first rendition of Roma with players like Perotta, De Rossi, Mancini, Taddei. The 2008 Coppa Italia was the last silverware that this great club had seen. 


The Portuguese manager would establish a team headed by Tammy Abraham, the largest investment of that summer for €40m. Behind him: academy graduate and captain, Lorenzo Pellegrini; A player who they treated as if he was one of their own even though he was one of the youth ranks of Inter, Nicolo Zaniolo; along with Bryan Cristante, Nicola Zalewski, Chris Smalling and Gianluca Mancini. Even if things didn’t start off well, they were actually incredibly unlucky as they were finishing way below their standard. 


Antonio Conte & Tottenham Hotspur – Pales of Insignificance


Mourinho reinforced the back so that their profligacy would be less detrimental, by moving to a back three, to keep clean sheets. From the turn of the year, they were one of the form teams and if it were not for their poor start, they may have actually been able to sneak into the Champions League. What they managed to do though is win the inaugural Europa Conference League and the delight for Mourinho was unbridled. He cried upon qualifying for the final. This was as big to him as it was to the Giallorossi.


If only the coffers of Roma grew to be as big the expectations of the team. In pushing the board to invest in the squad in the prior summer, the limit financially had been reached. So much so that UEFA had fined the club in 2022 and restrict their playing squad to 23 rather than the customary 25.


It meant the board could not give the manager what they both wanted – investment into the team. Who wouldn’t like to give the manager who brought the whole City that much joy as he did by delivering the Conference League to the passionate Romanistis?


They spent the ensuing minutes and hours of the very following day after the victory, singing at the top of their voice during the parade around the city. All those aforementioned were serenaded with songs about themselves and the club, most comically with Zaniolo’s creative chant, which involved the mockery of a player from their city rival of Laziale, Zaccagni bearing the brunt of it.


Some of those that were adorned in the day after the trophy lift in Tirana would be moved on. Key players first team players like Mkhitaryan, Zaniolo and Veretout. Even if not important in quality, the departure of his beloved and proclaimed son Afena Gyan would still be a negative effect as Mourinho builds the culture of having soldiers willing to die for him on the pitch. The work he done emotionally and mentally with Afena Gyan was testament to that but to a variety of factors, a departure was the only possible conclusion, unfortunately. One that would come to mirror his own.   


Dele Alli & Marcus Rashford – English Equifinality


The tight purse strings policy meant Roma had to operate in a different way, in an even more pronounced prudent way than they had done in previous years. Roma are not new to having to make “a dollar out of 15 cents” when it comes to investing in the playing squad. Mourinho knew the situation however so he worked in tandem with his right hand man for transfers, Tiago Pinto, even though they could only spend €7m towards the signature of Zeki Celik from Lille, they also managed to bring in big names like Paulo Dybala, Nemanja Matic, Gini Wijnaldum and Andrea Belotti for free.


Starting the season well, just 1 loss out of their first 6 league games, optimism amongst fans grew. To the point everyone expected incremental improvement in the league, meaning securing a top 4 finish,  Champions League football as a byproduct. The feeling was good after these first 6 games because this run featured a tied result against Juventus that felt huge.


In years gone by, particularly the ones with Fonseca at the helm, everyone feared the big games when it came around. The Stadio Olimpico should be the stage where the opposite is true – the big games are meant to be savoured because you get the biggest happiness from them. Yet, this stopped being the case for some time because it usually ended one way, the Giallorossi being on the losing side. 


This was one of the problems people thought Mourinho was going to solve as well and that result against Juventus where the team actually competed, in a tactically astute manner making it difficult for Allegri’s men to break us down whilst still posing a threat at the other end, it felt like something special was brewing. Even with the pretty standard result.


The Decay Starts To Set In Again


Alas, the season went on and with injuries, loss of form, suspensions to Mourinho himself and his staff, he started to not only stab outward, he did so inward. Everything that looked rosy from the start really started to crumble. The fans were dissatisfied with some of the football that was being played, compounded with the poor results.


Lorenzo Pellegrini: Roma’s Versatile Playmaker


He fell out with Rick Karsdorp after publicly accusing the player of “betraying the team with his attitude and unprofessionalism”, this as you can imagine didn’t go down well with some.  It wouldn’t be his first run in with a player (the departure of Zaniolo was acrimonious to say the least) and it would not be his last – a swing at Chris Smalling in his last press conference maligning his ability to stay fit or play through injury. An approach that perhaps was better in another time.


Roma couldn’t function without Dybala who heartbeat of the team at this point because he was often injured. It also didn’t help that Tammy was suffering a big loss of form after taking Rome by storm the previous season. It speaks to the wider point about not just the profligacy of Roma, as mentioned earlier, but a common theme that has run with Mourinho.


With Roma, over the course of his 2 and half years, Roma’s inability to finish their dinner was inexplicable. The below graphic shows that of the better Serie A teams in generating xGD, Torino aside, Roma were the only one to underperform in their actual goal difference. Mostly because of their lack of goalscoring. Yet this is a problem that has plagued Mourinho for the past 10 seasons.

How long is a team unlucky for? Comparing other Serie A teams to Jose’s Roma

Or is this just a problem with Jose? The last 10 seasons of Mourinho’s management


With something like the above, if this were to persist for just a season then a margin of error or luck might be enough for you to ignore. Over the course of 2 and a half years, 96 games being played in that time frame, that is a systemic problem within that team that the manager is unable to coach out. In the course of 301 games at 4 different clubs, for this same issue to rear its ugly head, the common denominator has to be rooted in the manager. 


The three seasons in which you can see the major positive difference in favour of the goal difference compared to what is expected, it is really individual brilliance of those teams and not an overall over-performance. For were it not for elastic arms of David De Gea in 2017/18 and the continued spectacular finishing of Harry Kane and Heung Min Son, those seasons would have yielded very similar results to the others. 


The tactics of Jose leaves games too marginal. It hinged far too much on the moments going your way. That tide can be turned when you have players of super ability like a prime De Gea or Harry Kane but that luck is due to run out. Games are kept tight and the talent up top or back is supposed to be that difference but the modern game simply does not allow for that to work as well as it used to.


The lack of form in the second season meant Roma would give up on trying to make Champions League via the league, it hinged on putting all their eggs in their Europa League basket, an competition where you can live on luck or margins and get to the glory. They did the season before. 


Roma and José Mourinho Were the Conference League’s Perfect Winners: A Review of Its Inaugral Season


They defeated a familiar foe in Arne Slot’s Feyenoord, from last year’s Conference League final. It was more or less a Mourinho masterclass across both legs in the Quarter Finals. A masterclass ensued again, this time against Xabi Alonso, a former student of his, and his Bayer Leverkusen team in the semi-finals.


Again, a quintessential Jose Mourinho two legged game. The however many months of pain, losses, drama and disappointments, leading up to that very moment of the ref blowing the final whistle that meant Roma were in the Europa League final felt like they were worth it because Roma fans were going to see their team have another opportunity of watching their beloved team play in a final again and another European one. 


The margins and luck would not fall in his favour this time though. He and we would succumb to defeat by the club who seems to have a magical grip on the Europa League, Sevilla. It would be his first European final defeat and the words he had for the referee, Anthony Taylor, were words from a man embittered by losing this record. The words would galvanise the fans of the Lupi to harass the English referee on the way home from the final. Despite some growing tired of his football, plenty still loved and adored him for bringing some glory back to the red and yellow colours of Rome.


It has descended further and further since. Despite the additions of Lukaku, Ndicka, Aouar, Sanches, Paredes, Llorente, Kristensen and Azmoun in the summer, the spiral has continued downward. The losses have mounted. Where once we thought the competitive big games would be back, Roma were regularly brushed aside. Only 4 out of 28 times were the Giallorossi triumphant in the big clashes.


Data Analysis: José Mourinho’s Roma


With a manager that prides himself on getting the best out of his sum of parts and punching above his weight amongst the big boys. It is a stat line the flew harshly in the face of everything that had been built in the Portuguese’s 30 month reign. The Coppa Italia loss to Lazio and then the 3-1 defeat to Milan were the final nail in the coffin. In spite of the fact many thought Mourinho’s standing with the fans would be the shield to he the Gladiator, the Friedkins did not and duly relieved him of his duties on 16th January. 


So when people look on the works of Mourinho and they might despair like they did with Ozymandias. In the ironic way that Shelley intended for the reader however. In the moment, when Mourinho had built himself to be bastion of football, he deserved the pedestal to which he could call himself ‘one not of the bottle’. Time ages everything and managerial ability succumbs to it all the same. When you think of Mourinho sneering of that aging Arsene Wenger and his own standing, it spoke to a man who thought it was impossible that it could happen to him.


But the decay around Mourinho’s standing was only thought to be at the top level. What built Mourinho up to that level in the first place, as aforementioned, is that he was doing it with relative underdogs. The tour amongst the elite might be done but there was still a place for Mourinho. The job of Roma was one where it could evoke the fire that clubs like Madrid, the new Chelsea, Man Utd and Spurs had seemingly put out. It did. His tears when he won the Europa Conference League final were not fake. They were as real as the ones famously shared as he hugged Marco Materazzi in the car park after winning the treble with Inter Milan. He had fallen in love with the club and the city.


As Jose sat atop that team bus at the Conference League parade, applauding the fans who chanted for him, in front of the Colosseum, it brought new meaning to the king round the decay. One of which he could revel in. What may have been the decay of his career, now it might have spoken of his new standing as a manager. Not to say that Roma are a decayed club but they should be much more than they are.


What Can Paulo Dybala Bring to Jose Mourinho’s Roma?


This is a club that is famed but does not have the trophy cabinet or historical relevance to match the grandiose nature. With the European victory in Tirana, Mourinho was able to restore that and with that, he brought the fans the joy they had oh so craved. Mourinho was the king of Rome and even on his leaving, one where the tears were evident again, the fans came to thank, rather than admonish him. 


But as the window rolled up on that car that would whisk him away from Trigoria one last time, it was the end of Mourinho’s works with Roma and we would look no more. Now, we look at all his works and despair but not in the way that Ozymandias meant or Jose Mourinho would want. A king of kings in his time but just one of the bottle now. Not just for the elite but perhaps for everyone.


By: Elijah Sofoluke / @AliquamScripto

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Tottenham Hotspur FC