Jose Mourinho’s last act in Serie A saw him hold off a spirited charge from Roma to clinch the Scudetto with Inter on the final day of the 2009/10 season. Now the tables have turned, and he takes the Giallorossi into battle against his former club, recently crowned champions, and the rest of the league.
The ‘Special One’ sent shockwaves around Italian football as he was announced as the successor to fellow Portuguese coach Paulo Fonseca in the capital, and brings the aura, interest, and fireworks that accompany Mourinho wherever he goes.
Yet, the Mourinho that departed Serie A as a serial winner with Inter, including a historic treble, returns as a coach with plenty to prove. Unhappy spells in the Premier League with Chelsea, Manchester United, and most recently, Tottenham Hotspur have seen Mourinho’s reputation take a bruising and he fights to show he retains relevance in the current game.
The 58-year-old was dismissed by Spurs last month just one week ahead of the League Cup Final, with the North Londoners willing to give rookie Ryan Mason his first chance in management rather than suffer the supposedly toxic environment festering under their high-profile coach.
Roma have suffered an ignominious season of their own. Not a single victory over their rivals in the league, a humiliating Coppa Italia exit to Spezia and a downturn in form that could see them finish eighth is all that is to show for Fonseca’s second year, without mentioning a Europa League semi-final thrashing at the hands of Manchester United.
Whilst owners the Friedkin Group have lofty ambitions for the club, Mourinho’s willingness to step in with little prospect of European football is a suggestion of how far his stock has fallen, but also his keen eye for an opportunity.
The 2010 prime Mourinho would never have considered taking on such a role, but whilst results have been disappointing, there is potential in this Roma squad. Battered by an incredible amount of injuries in an already-congested season, the Lupi have suffered more than their fair share of misfortune but have a team capable of challenging for the top four.
It also affords Mourinho the opportunity to return to a league in which he seemed truly happy and where he retains a strong reputation. The former Porto coach thrived in the tactical battles of Serie A and may relish a return to a country in which he did not end a stint at a club with bitterness, but rather overwhelming affection.
Roma may consider it a coup to bring Mourinho back to Italy but they must heed lessons from Spurs, who saw the Portuguese as a high-profile ‘super coach’ ready to bring instant success. Instead, they were left with a disillusioned fanbase and a team that showed little sign of progress in the Premier League.
Mourinho has a CV and trophy cabinet that almost every coach in the world looks at with envy, but his recent showings have hinted at a decline, with struggles at Spurs following a sharp drop at Manchester United and a woeful defence of his 2015 Premier League title at Chelsea.
Similarly, the Giallorossi have already been stung by internal disputes, most notably between Fonseca and former captain Edin Dzeko. In the simmering cauldron of the Stadio Olimpico, Mourinho’s infamous man-management style may yet end in disaster.
For Roma, a season that has lurched from one catastrophe to another and a trophy drought that looks set to extend to 13 years justifies bringing in a man who at one time guaranteed success.
Mourinho, meanwhile, has found a club with potential and an opportunity to become idolised in Serie A once more, whilst having the autonomy to dictate exactly how he wishes to shape his Giallorossi.
Recent history suggests it could end in tears, but it has always been unwise to write off a Mourinho with something to prove. Regardless, it promises to be a spectacle that few will want to miss.