How Jose Mourinho can make a success of his time with Roma

Patch things up with Chris Smalling to fix a chronically leaky defence, refresh the strike force, get Mkhitaryan on board again and make Roma the team Juventus and Inter hate playing… How Jose Mourinho can make a success of his return to Italy

  • Jose Mourinho will become manager of Roma from the start of next season
  • They are on course to finish seventh in Serie A after a disappointing campaign
  • Mourinho’s No 1 priority will be to fix a leaky defence that has cost Roma dear
  • This could mean making up with Chris Smalling after clashes at Man United
  • Mourinho must demand summer investment in Roma’s ageing forward line 
  • But he certainly won’t have an inferiority complex against the bigger teams 

So Jose Mourinho is back in management and back in Italy some 11 years on from leading Inter Milan to a stunning Treble.

Back then, Mourinho was arguably the finest manager in world football, a guarantor of success and silverware as well as being a charming character we couldn’t get enough of.

Now, after the failure of his second spell with Chelsea, his time at Manchester United and a very brief 17 months at Tottenham, it is a very different story.

Jose Mourinho is back in management with Roma and will start his new job in the summer 

The appointment sees Mourinho return to Italy, where he won the treble as Inter Milan boss

Mourinho’s methods are widely viewed as stale, boring and outdated. He is seen as a prickly and divisive character happy to sow the seeds of dressing room discontent.

Compared to the styles favoured by the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, it can appear that football has left Mourinho behind in the dark ages.

Yet clearly some still value his pragmatism and believe he is a pretty sure bet when it comes to winning games and trophies.

Mourinho was sacked by Tottenham two weeks ago, six days out from the Carabao Cup final

Roma are on course for the Europa Conference League as it stands and a seventh place finish

It explains why Mourinho is back in work at Roma barely a fortnight after his acrimonious exit from White Hart Lane. He will take over at the beginning of next season, succeeding Paulo Fonseca.

But what challenges will Mourinho face when he arrives in Roma? We take a look at the Portuguese manager’s in-tray.

Sorting out Roma’s dodgy defence… and making up with Smalling

Anyone who watched them ship six goals against Manchester United last week, including five in the second-half, will realise that Roma’s defence isn’t the most watertight.

It’s something Mourinho will have to fix as a matter of urgency and, as a defensive-minded coach, it’s no doubt a challenge he will relish.

Fonseca has favoured a 3-4-2-1 system this season but it has come at the cost of conceding too many goals – 53 in Serie A alone, more than any team in the top half.

Chris Smalling was left powerful as Roma shipped six goals to his old club Manchester United

The defender won’t necessarily be relishing a reunion with former manager Mourinho

It will be expected that Mourinho makes Roma more robust in defence and no doubt he’ll revert to his tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 with more orthodox full-backs rather than wing-backs.

While the use of two holding midfield players at Tottenham only resulted in moans and groans, it would be more acceptable in Italy.

One Roma defender who knows Mourinho’s methods inside out and perhaps won’t be too happy to see him is Chris Smalling.

It was in October 2016, after United were thrashed 4-0 at Chelsea, that Mourinho described Smalling as ‘phenomenal’ after he played through the pain at Stamford Bridge.

But a fortnight later, when Smalling wasn’t able to play against Swansea, Mourinho questioned his bravery. It then emerged the defender had suffered a double foot fracture.

Roma’s Amadou Diawara and Roger Ibanez look dejected during last week’s loss to United

There was also Mourinho’s barb about Smalling’s ability to pass the ball out from the back following United’s win over Ajax in the 2017 Europa League final.

In an interview, Mourinho explained that United’s long ball tactics in the game were because he couldn’t risk Smalling giving the ball away.

‘I even joked with Smalling, ‘with your feet, we’re for sure not playing out from the back!’

It remains to be seen if Smalling remembers the remark. He only joined Roma permanently last October after a successful loan spell, is contracted until 2023 and has struggled with injuries all season.

Will he want to work under Mourinho a second time? A rapprochement between the two may be needed because Roma have missed Smalling when he’s been absent this season.

One of Mourinho’s first tasks will be to tighten Roma up in defence and add more discipline

Mkhitaryan the main man?

Another player set for a reunion with Mourinho is Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who also had his run-ins with the manager when at United.

The Armenian has revealed that once Mourinho blamed him for some negative press coverage around the club and has admitted the manager was ‘difficult’ to work with.

But Mkhitaryan has also been positive about his former boss as well. In an interview with The Athletic recently, he said: ‘What I want to say is that I had a hard time but after the first two or three months there, I had a very good time.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has scored 11 goals and contributed 11 assists for Roma this season

‘I won three trophies with the club, which was amazing. You know, some players have been playing in Manchester for ages but they haven’t won anything.’

Yet Mourinho was more than happy to let him move to Arsenal in January 2018 as part of the swap deal that brought Alexis Sanchez to Old Trafford.

Now they are set to work together again and Mkhitaryan has been in good form for much of the season. He has scored 11 goals and contributed 11 assists but the majority of those came in the first half of the campaign.

Now 32, and with his Roma contract expiring this summer, you do wonder whether Mkhitaryan will fancy another dance with Mourinho.

If he stays, it could be worth the hard yards to win another trophy or two down the line.

Mkhitaryan had his run-ins with Mourinho at United but says there were a lot of positives

More firepower needed

The most pressing priority will be fixing the defence but Mourinho may need to take a look at Roma’s attacking options as well.

They have scored just 58 Serie A goals all season and it helps explain why they’re set to be in the new Europa Conference League next season.

They have Borja Mayoral, who has scored 15 in all competitions and is the leading scorer this season, plus the 35-year-old Edin Dzeko and ex-Chelsea forward Pedro, who is 33.

It isn’t exactly a front line that will scare too many opponents.

Veteran striker Edin Dzeko celebrates after scoring for Roma against Ajax last month

Ex-Chelsea forward Pedro is also part of a Roma forward line Mourinho may want to refresh

As we’ve seen in the past, notably at United, Mourinho is a manager who demands investment in his squad.

So Dan Friedkin, the US billionaire whose Friedkin Group took Roma over at the beginning of the season from fellow American James Pallotta, can expect a request for a transfer kitty.

Mourinho was quick to thank the Friedkin family in his first quotes after accepting the job.

The club had become accustomed to Champions League football in recent seasons – even reaching the semi-finals in 2018 – and Mourinho will no doubt make it clear investment is essential if they are to challenge again.

Roma owners Dan Friedkin and Ryan Friedkin can expect a demand for a transfer kitty

Restoring the Roman aura

The thing that will most excite Roma fans is that Mourinho isn’t one to back down and his arrival immediately raises the club’s stature again after a season of struggle.

Having been there and won it all, Mourinho won’t be afraid of the likes of Antonio Conte at Inter, Gennaro Gattuso at Napoli or Simeone Inzaghi across town at Lazio.

The fans will love nothing more for Mourinho to make Roma into a team that everyone dreads facing, that can go toe-to-toe with Juventus and the Milan clubs.

Roma haven’t won a piece of silverware since they carried off the Italian Cup in 2008. They have won only three league titles in their entire history, the last Scudetto coming in 2001.

It’s high time they started winning something and the fans won’t really care how they achieve it. Mourinho’s slightly dull but effective football, having galvanised the dressing room behind him, will be well received if it gets results.

We will wait and see whether he can still deliver.

Mourinho will back himself to restore Roma to a position where they can challenge Antonio Conte and champions Inter Milan 

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