Jose Mourinho likes to say he never changes.
Many believed that he had to do just that.
Two decades after his coaching debut, he’s stuck to another top job. In the last six years, the legend has gone from destruction at Chelsea to civil war at Manchester United and failure at Tottenham.
Critics say the 59-year-old has become a “dinosaur”; a stubborn man with old methods that don’t belong in today’s football.
When Roma hit two hard hits against Bodø/Glimt this fall, they seemed right.
But this particular dinosaur didn’t give up so easily.
Reptile in designer coat
For Mourinho, not only fighting for trophies in Rome. He is fighting for his own existence as a top coach.
Last year he left England with his tail between his legs. While rivals like Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp are building modern attacking teams, Mourinho doubts the more defensive methods that worked 10-15 years ago when he was the “special one”.
I Daily mail commentator Oliver Holt wrote that Mourinho was a “dinosaur in a designer mantle”.
So Mourinho went to Italy, where he still holds high status after a triple-triple win in 2010. There he found a Roma team that hadn’t won anything since a cup win in 2008. Both the coach and the team had been better before; together they will be the best again.
But when Roma lost 6-1 at Aspmyra in October, they were ridiculed. Never before have Mourinho’s team conceded six goals. It is an international insult.
Even when Roma were about to take revenge on Glimt in Italy, they only managed 2-2.
At the same time, Roma stands with two wins in six matches in Serie A.
So Mourinho did something drastic.
He changed formation. After hours in the think tank, he switched to a system he hardly used in his 20 years as a coach: 3-4-3.
Mourinho most often uses the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, which Roma have used to start the season. The move was pure pragmatism. He himself admits that he does not like 3-4-3, but he realizes that it suits the players best.
– If you want to play with three above, you must have wings. Where do they go? If you want to play with four players at the back, you have to have a fast stopper. Where do they go? she says.
Soon Roma won three games in a row without setbacks; Mourinho’s plan seems to be working.
But then they got into trouble again.
In December, Roma were crushed 3-0 at home against reigning champions Inter. When Mourinho met the press afterwards, he was annoyed with the critical journalists.
– Your job is much easier than ours, which is why we get more from you, he said.
Mourinho tried again 4-2-3-1, but in January Roma suffered straight defeats against Milan and Juventus, two teams they want to take to the top.
Especially the defeat against Juventus svei. Mourinho has disliked the Torino team since he became Inter coach in 2008. When he beat them at United in 2018, he provoked the fans by putting his hand to his ear – and was greeted with a loud whistle.
In this match, Roma led 3-1 with more than 20 minutes remaining, and then conceded three goals. It was a serious blow in the battle for fourth place, which awarded tickets to the Champions League.
Mourinho called it a “psychological” collapse.
“We have players who are too good and too weak,” he said.
Sun or rain?
Since that defeat, however, Roma have found stability. They have lost one of their last 14 matches, and that was in the cup against Inter.
Now Mourinho has changed again to 3-4-3, which has become a chess move. Defense seems to be more stable. Playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan and captain Lorenzo Pellegrini have played major roles in key roles just behind the striker.
Above, Tammy Abraham has found a rhythm. When Mourinho called him last summer to lure him from Chelsea to Roma, he asked the question.
Do you want to enjoy the sun or stay in the rain?
Abraham picked the sun and now has nine goals in 11 league games since the New Year. Both he, Mourinho, Mkhitaryan and goalkeeper Chris Smalling were in various ways crushed by their club in England.
Now they are at Roma to show they still have a level inside.
So hair are they?
Mourinho «in prison»
Some would argue that the latest form is a hoax. Roma rarely lose, but they have faced some top teams lately. Against Sassuolo, Udinese and Vitesse they equalized in extra time.
Besides, Mourinho is still in trouble. When Roma played 2-2 against Verona in February, he criticized referee Luca Pairetto from the sidelines. He mimicked a telephone conversation, which Italian media said referred to Pairetto’s father, Pierluigi, who was implicated in Italy’s match-fixing scandal.
Mourinho then kicked the ball into the stands – and was sent off. He later refused to speak to the press. He was fined and suspended for two games.
He watched the next Roma game on the team bus, where goalkeeping coach Nuno Santos took a picture and posted it on Instagram.
– Prisons have iPad TVs, writes Nuno Santos.
But Mourinho has arguments against. Roma have recently shown defensive stability, with two defeats in seven games before Thursday’s encounter with Glimt.
Most recently, they beat Lazio 3-0 at home in a byderbyet. Mourinho was so confident that he later published two photos of himself, one taken before the game and another after.
– When you know before the game that you are going to win, the pictures from the team bus and dressing room are very similar, he wrote on Instagram.
In the last 10 rounds, only Napoli have picked up more points in Serie A. Roma are now five points behind fourth-placed and if they get them, this season will be a success.
Moreover, Mourinho has said that Serie A is the priority. It’s the continent’s third biggest club tournament, and for the best teams in Europe it will only be a consolation prize.
But Roma have only won one title in Europe before, and that was the Messeby Cup which closed in 1961. It would mean a lot to a lot of people if they beat Glimt and win the final.
For the fans, it will be a long awaited trophy.
For the players, it will be a reward for a tumultuous season.
And for Mourinho, it will be proof that he is not a thing of the past.
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