Jose Mourinho Paid the Price for Being Yesterday’s Man

Jose Mourinho (Image: AS Roma)

According to eyewitnesses, as Jose Mourinho’s Lexus left AS Roma’s training ground in Trigoria for the last time, close to 50 fans ran towards it. Several of them were big, intimidating men, the kind of Ultras players instinctively shy away from.

But on Tuesday afternoon, many of them were weeping, yelling “Don’t go, Jose” at the departing car. Inside the vehicle, an equally emotional Mourinho thanked them for the two years at the club of their hearts, before slowly driving from view.

Mourinho never won the Serie A title for Roma. In fact, he didn’t even come close. Yet, the fact that he was loved almost as intensely as Neils Liedholm — who won the title in the early 1980s and then took Roma to the European Cup final — and Fabio Capello, architect of Roma’s last Serie A crown, tells you something about the relationship he enjoyed with the fans.

On the field, this was no match made in heaven. For the first time in his storied career, Mourinho left a job with a win percentage below 50. That number itself was boosted by European adventures — victory in the inaugural Europa Conference League, and a run to the Europa League final last season.

In Serie A, the performances were often grim, with just 44 victories in 96 games. In both his full seasons, Mourinho’s Roma finished sixth, with identical points tallies (63). While some would say that was about par for the course, Roma hadn’t slipped out of the top three between 2013 and 2018, and were perennial bridesmaids in the Francesco Totti years at the beginning of the millennium.

If Roma’s ownership, the subject of scathing criticism from Capello — “I think American owners in general work without respecting the people they collaborate with. We saw it at Milan with Maldini and today in Trigoria with Mourinho” — have spared themselves a mutiny, that’s only because of the identity of Mourinho’s successor.

Daniele Di Rossi played more than 600 games for Roma, and was one of them. Perhaps only Totti and Agostini Di Bartolomei — Liedholm’s captain, who tragically killed himself on the 10th anniversary of the European Cup final defeat to Liverpool (1984) — have been more loved as players. Di Rossi will get the longest possible rope as Roma attempt to resurrect what has been another dreadful season.

The seeds of Mourinho’s sacking were sown last spring when Roma finished the season appallingly, taking just five points from their final five matches. AC Milan, who won four of their last five, pipped them to fourth place and the riches that come with Champions League qualification. The Friedkin family finally pulled the plug when Roma slipped to ninth before this season’s winter break.

Being behind Internazionale, Juventus and AC Milan was no surprise, but trailing behind Fiorentina, Atalanta and Bologna simply wasn’t acceptable. Mourinho, who once coached a Chelsea side that conceded just 15 league goals all season, saw Roma concede 24 in their first 20 games. The defensive frailty that characterised his time at Tottenham Hotspur as well merely led to more questions being asked about his ability to organise a back line.


Ultimately though, both at Spurs and Roma, Mourinho paid the price for being yesterday’s man. If you talk to any elite young footballer today and ask which coach they want to play for, almost every single one will pick from five names. Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti are no-brainers, while Zinedine Zidane still has the mystique from those three back-to-back Champions League wins with Real Madrid. As for Bayer Leverkusen’s Xabi Alonso, everyone knows he is the future.

Mourinho and his reactive football simply don’t make the cut. Players are no longer content with obscene salaries and image rights that run into millions of dollars. Kylian Mbappe will almost certainly end up at Real Madrid this coming summer, but he has never been shy of expressing his appreciation for Klopp and the football that Liverpool play. The optics matter.

This March, it will be 20 years since Mourinho pranced down the Old Trafford touchline celebrating a late Francisco Costinha equaliser that dumped Manchester United out of the Champions League. Porto remain the competition’s last surprise winners, alongside Mourinho’s Inter, a side that relied heavily on veterans.

Whatever happens next, the Special One’s place in the game’s annals is secure. But the glory years are long gone, just like the Lexus from Trigoria.

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