Jose Mourinho said he would “wait to be back in football” following his dismissal from Tottenham Hotspur. But he didn’t wait very long.
Clearly the offers to work on behalf of tabloid newspapers, radio stations and bookmakers weren’t enough to keep the former Manchester United manager out of the game that consumes him; barely three weeks passed and he was being announced as the next Roma boss.
It felt in a way like a typical Mourinho mind game, to see him unveiled as the next manager of a club United still have to face in the second leg of a European semi-final. It would be unlikely that Mourinho could engineer any impact on current (and outgoing) Roma boss Paulo Fonseca, who will be in the dugout opposite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Thursday night, but you wouldn’t put it past him.
The head honchos at the Italian club spoke in glowing terms about Mourinho when the announcement came through on Tuesday afternoon.
“When Jose became available, we immediately jumped at the chance to speak with one of the greatest managers of all time,” said Thiago Pinto, Roma’s general manager.
“We were blown away by Jose’s desire to win and his passion for the game: no matter how many trophies he has won, his primary focus is always on the next one. He possesses the knowledge, experience and leadership to compete at all levels.”
Mourinho’s track record speaks for itself, though it is his recent record at United and Tottenham — and the fact he’s heading to Roma, rather than one of Europe’s truly elite super-clubs — that are causing questions over his career trajectory.
A decade ago Mourinho was fresh off winning Serie A and the Champions League with Inter Milan; now he’s returning to a club currently seventh in the Italian league table and who Solskjaer’s United put to the sword 6-2 last week.
At least he will be surrounded by some familiar faces in Italy, joining up with Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, both of whom he managed at United. His relationship with the latter was strained to say the least, though further north in Milan he will have some friendly faces — Ashley Young, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and maybe even Zlatan Ibrahimovic — to travel to meet for a coffee.
It’s rather odd, in fact, how such a large chunk of the United side of 2015 to 2018 have joined forces in Serie A now.
And, with all due respect to the league, it doesn’t reflect too well on the strength of Italian football right now that Young (36 in July), Sanchez (32) and Matteo Darmian (31) have recently become Scudetto winners.
Credit probably should go to Antonio Conte for masterminding Inter’s victory, breaking Juventus’ 10-year stranglehold on the title, and to Lukaku who is operating at his peak — pushing Cristiano Ronaldo close as the top scorer — but otherwise, it’s obvious Mourinho is taking a giant step down. Even from Tottenham.
His days of competing for the biggest titles seem long gone. Even if Mourinho can somehow propel Roma back into the mix for the Serie A trophy and Champions League football, he will still seem a shadow of the manager who dominated the Premier League for a decade.
It goes without saying that Solskjaer still has plenty to prove, starting with brushing off Fonseca’s Roma on Thursday night and earning a Europa League final spot. Winning the competition and securing second in the league should be enough for the wider footballing public to recognise Solskjaer has overtaken Mourinho in the managerial stakes. He will then need more silverware to back it up.
As for the clutch of players Solskjaer discarded early in his United reign who are plying their trade in Serie A, none aside than Lukaku look to have a particularly bright future.
United have moved on from them, just as they rightly moved on from Mourinho.