Can Mourinho be happy saying Roma is the horse he rode in on?
Background image: Russell Yarwood, CC BY-SA 2.0
I recently questioned whether Jose Mourinho was more interested in managing or bilking yet another club out of a hefty severance package. Prior to making a single move with AS Roma, there’s no reason to put aside those suspicions. Still, giving the Special One the benefit of the doubt and assuming he still has a taste for coaching at the top level, Jose might be kicking himself for taking the first opportunity to come his way after leaving Tottenham in disgrace.
Of course, he has no one but himself to blame for cranking up the notorious Serie A managerial carousel but, after he agreed to take over at the Olympic Stadium for countryman Paulo Fonseca, one more prestigious door opened and another seems to be ajar. Antonio Conte took his leave of the Giuseppe Meazza after winning the Scudetto with Inter and rumours indicate Andrea Pirlo may not be long for Juventus.
Arguably, Mourinho is more suited to managing in either Lombardy or Piedmont than the capital. While the Giallorossi squad is dotted with a few veterans he either knows or would appreciate--specifically former Chelsea winger Pedro, striker Edin Dzeko, midfielder Javier Pastore and right back Rick Karsdorp--the I Lupi culture Jose inherits is open, expressive football. Creative spirit is the first thing he seeks to crush upon arriving at a club. Ask Sergio Ramos, Juan Mata, David Luiz and Paul Pogba. Roma players needn’t seek them out, of course. They have Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Chris Smalling in-house to warn them. For his part, Nicolo Zaniolo might want to have a serious Zoom chat with Luke Shaw as he prepares to rejoin the team after rehabilitating a second ACL rupture. Manchester United supporters will recall the viciously public hazing their left-back endured from his new manager as he fought back from a gruesome double leg break.
If managers were leading actors in adventure films, Mourinho would be Brad Pitt’s Aldo Raine in Inglorious Basterds rather than the Oscar winner's Rusty Raine in Ocean’s Eleven. The Portuguese's tactics are brutal and direct rather than subtle.
Antonio Conte is essentially a Mourinho clone with an Italian accent and lifetime membership at the Hair Club. Jose would have dearly loved to claim turnabout as fair play, taking over a title-winning squad from Conte after leaving him the greater part of one at Stamford Bridge, albeit with Steve Holland and Guus Hiddink keeping the managerial seat hot for 28 matches until the former Azzurri boss wrapped up his business at Euro16.
Inter is filled with the gritty veterans Mou swoons over. Aleksandar Kolarov, the 35-year-old Serbian left-back formerly of both Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini’s title-winning Manchester City sides? Shades of Nemanja Matic. Marcelo Brozovic? Same. Radja Nainggolan and Arturo Vidal? Jose could only improve their effectiveness by allowing them to play with cigars clenched between snarling teeth. Then there’s his cadre of former United favourites, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Ashley Young. Oh, yeah, sorry for overlooking you, Matteo Darmian. I’m sure the gaffer won’t this time around. What about Alessandro Bastoni? Mourinho always picks one young player in order to deny claims he ignores them all. And let's face it. With a name like Bastoni, the 22-year-old centre-back sounds like the perfect choice.
So what if most of Conte’s irregulars are well into their 30s and the Italian took his leave because the club wouldn’t sanction a large war chest to recruit younger replacements? Mourinho would've drawn every last ounce of life from the old guard while giving Nerazzurri’s Chinese owners, retail conglomerate Suning, time to recoup its COVID lossesbefore hitting them up even harder than his predecessor. Even better, he’d be unsackable in the short term, given his treble legacy at the Giuseppe Meazza.
In Turin, Mou could say, “Told you so!” to chairman Andrea Agnelli after the Fiat scion overlooked him in favour of the more attractive styles promised by Maurizio Sarri and Pirlo. The former Chelsea boss [yet another one!] couldn’t deliver the Champions League with Cristiano Ronaldo in the squad and I Maestro let the Old Lady’s nine-year grip on the Scudetto slip. Jose could have promised to restore the Bianconeri’s superiority by returning them to the defensive fortitude for which they have long been famous. Wocjiech Szczesny is 31? Who cares? Gigi Buffon is 43. Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro all in their twilight years? Aaron Ramsey, too? Come on, amigo. That’s what makes them undroppable.
Instead, Jose finds himself in Rome with an inferior squad and little chance of winning anything other than a sizable parting gift while Massimiliano Allegri and Simone Inzhagi reap all the headlines. Oh, well. At least the food is good.