Man, it feels like just yesterday Roma played their last Serie A match in advance of the World Cup break. And here we are now, just a few days before the final between Argentina and France, and with Roma about to embark on a training camp in Portugal with the season restart rapidly approaching.
Let’s see what The Special One had to say on the eve of training camp:
After 13 days off Roma are back on the training pitch. How are the team looking three days into their return to action?
“I’m really happy with things. The players were keen to get down to work, and came back from the break full of motivation and focus. That’s a huge plus.
“It’s never easy to come back to action, especially to hit the ground running in the way we like to, and to stick our philosophy of applying intensity to our approach, as well as a high level of focus. I’m delighted with how the players have responded in the last three days.”
While this is seemingly mostly standard coach-speak, you know Mourinho would be ready to go scorched earth if the team had come out flat to start after this period off, so it’s great to hear how pleased he is with the attitude so far.
But of course, is that any surprise? You’d generally expect a positive atmosphere around the team following an extended break like this. Throw in the fact that most, if not all. of the players on the squad not in Qatar are no doubt lamenting their absence from the tourney and you almost assuredly have a team chomping at the bit to resume the season.
You’re heading to Portugal soon. What are you looking to achieve on a sporting level in Albufeira?
‘Our aim is to get into action. There are so many teams over there so there were many options available to us. That being said it’s not easy to find the right opponents. The idea we had was to face teams who were in better shape than us.
“Cadiz haven’t had a break. They’ve been playing games and training throughout this period, facing big teams such as Manchester United and today they played against Wolverhampton Wanderers. They’re in southern Spain on the way to Portugal. You can see in their games that they’ve been playing with full throttle and it’s clear the players haven’t had a break.
“The Portuguese team we’re taking on [Casa Pia] are fifth in the league but what’s more significant is that they were playing competitively two days ago. While the league in Portugal took a break for the World Cup the Portuguese League Cup kept going. Casa Pia were involved in the group stages of the competition with three other teams and games came thick and fast for them. They’re another team who’ve got an edge over us in terms of their competitive level right now.
“The other team we’re facing are a Dutch side, RKC Waalwijk. They’re back in league action earlier than we are. That’s why we’ve chosen to take on the teams I just mentioned. We want the players to get some game time.
“Obviously after three days of training and with tomorrow being the fourth day in our first game back I’ll be avoiding giving players more than 45 or 60 minutes of action. Unfortunately we don’t have 22 players available and some of them will have to play extra minutes, but our overall aim is to train well, get back into action and give players 45-60 minutes of game time.
“What’s more important than getting a good result, and obviously these games don’t count for anything anyway, is just playing games, training well, and getting back to our usual intensity levels. Like I said before, based on how I feel after the first three training sessions back I think the players are in the right mindset to train well.”
I’ve long been a fan of playing opponents in preseason that are marginally further along with their fitness as opposed to the commercially-motivated preseason clashes between the top European clubs In whichever part of the world they’re looking to grow the game.
However, I do stress that above all else, the priority should be to keep everybody healthy until the season resumes. Roma can’t afford a repeat of the first half of the season.
We’re going through an unusual period with this break for the World Cup, which is new for everyone, even for an experienced coach like yourself. How hard is it to keep things going, both on a physical and mental level, knowing that there are still 20 days to go until Serie A?
“Nobody, including people who’ve been around the block in football, had gone through this before. This situation is unprecedented. I think all of us involved in the game, coaches, their staff and the clubs, have tried to be as professional as possible in this situation, creating a plan which will see us go back into the season in good shape.
“In our case we’re playing [a competitive match] on 4 January. Prior to this upcoming training camp in Portugal, the club, with my consent, arranged a tour to Japan mainly for commercial and branding purposes. As we were going there right after the break we tried to take some proper time off. We thought that as we had only four players going to the World Cup we would’ve had some of them come back already during this period, which is the case for Rui Patricio, who’ll join up with us in Portugal, while Vina and Zalewski are back tomorrow.
“Paulo Dybala is the only one missing now. We had imagined that this could come about. We’ll have everyone available in the Algarve, which obviously excludes injured players who are obviously still off the pace and won’t feature against Bologna on January 4.
“We saw this as an important period for us. We’re working our socks off right now. As I said before, we’re using these games not to win them or get a certain result, rather just as training exercises. It’s really important that we train well during this period.
“After a small break covering December 23-25 we’re back in action on the 26th and we’ll be pushing forward with our preparations until January 4. In that game points will be at stake, as such we’ll be aiming to get a result.”
Well. there you have it folks. Sometimes these tours are for commercial purposes and other times they’re for really getting your hands dirty and putting the time in on the training ground, And both of these approaches are perfectly fine, what's important is that Mourinho and his staff are doing what they can to mitigate the disruption caused by this World Cup, particularly with the injury issue in mind.