STADIO OLIMPICO (Rome) – Jose Mourinho isn’t a man to hide his feelings.
The Roma boss left little doubt over how he felt about the quality of his second-string squad after Thursday’s stunning, humiliating 6-1 defeat inside the Arctic Circle against Bodo/Glimt.
“If I could use the same players every match I would,” Mourinho told Sky Sport Italia after the defeat. It’s risky because there’s a huge gulf between our first choice and second choice players. I expected better, but it’s my responsibility.”
But it didn’t seem like the Portuguese had entirely accepted responsibility when the team sheet was handed around the Stadio Olimpico press box before Roma’s game against Napoli on Sunday.
The list of names at the top was predictable; it was the same Giallorossi side that started in the previous weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Juventus.
But those on the bench were less so. Of the 12 names, only four were older than 20, while five players who started in Norway – Bryan Reynolds, Marash Kumbulla, Amadou Diawara, Gonzalo Villar and Borja Mayoral – were left to watch from the stands.
It was a clear punishment. Who was responsible for the defeat, again?
The nature of the Conference League debacle left Mourinho feeling the need to make a statement to his players, but also perhaps to his employers ahead of the January transfer window.
The scale of the embarrassment in Norway – it was the heaviest defeat of Mourinho’s career – combined with the fact that it was the Lupi’s fourth loss in seven games in all competitions, meant that losing again in front of a boisterous home crowd could have turned a concern into a crisis.
But the capital club deserved the draw and defended well against the fearsome threat of Victor Osimhen, who Gianluca Mancini handled well in a game of few gilt-edged chances.
Mourinho can always be counted on for drama when it is otherwise lacking, though, and provided just that when he earned a second yellow card for dissent late on.
The performance and result might have proved Mourinho’s point, as only two of his starters against Napoli were in the line-up against Bodo/Glimt.
When it came down to it, the players the coach says he can trust were the ones who delivered a strong performance at a critical time.
But it remains to be seen what the long-term consequences of snubbing his five fringe players will be, and whether the confidence knock will spur them to improve, or leave them feeling hurt and unwanted.
Roma have fixtures every three or four days between their European and domestic duties, and counting on 13 players to get results every time isn’t a reasonable expectation.
After all, some of these players have already proved their worth in the past. Villar found some good form under Paulo Fonseca last season, making 33 Serie A appearances, while Mayoral scored 17 goals in all competitions.
Diawara cost the club €21 million two years ago and, like Kumbulla, was recently regarded as one of the league’s top prospects. Both have shown they can produce top performances at Serie A level.
It seems wasteful to cast them all aside and fill the bench with kids – but only time will tell what the true knock-on consequences of the defeat in Norway, and Mourinho’s reaction, will be.
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