While nothing he does from here can tarnish the legacy he's built over the past 20 years, when it comes to his Roma career, the notes on José Mourinho's epitaph are inextricably linked to the results on the pitch. A draw Salernitana at home on Opening Day? Mourinho is washed; get that bum outta here! Wait...they beat Empoli by how much? Mourinho is still a genius, I told you!
With two losses in their first three matches of the season, Mourinho's methods came under increasing scrutiny. However, once the season began in earnest, the 60-year-old manager soon settled into a groove, posting an 8-3-2 (W-D-L) record in all competitions since their 7-0 thrashing of Empoli on September 17th.
Now, that record isn't exactly making first-place Inter Milan quiver in their boots, but with Roma only three points away from Serie A's final Champions League place, the dreary start to the season is firmly in the rearview. And that recovery has reignited the Mourinho contract renewal discussions, with outlets across Italy claiming that Mourino and the club may continue their professional relationship past the June 30, 2024 expiration date.
Of course, Mourinho being Mourinho, nothing is cut and dry; there is an expanse of gray area. While Mourinho has failed to lift Roma out of 6th place during his first two years with the club, he did the unthinkable, guiding the Giallorossi to consecutive European finals, winning the inaugural Europa Conference League in the spring of 2022 before falling to Sevilla in the Europa League final last May.
Couple that with the club's streak of sold-out home fixtures, and there are ample reasons to extend Mourinho's contract. However, Roma lives and dies by Champions League revenue, and his inability to deliver on that goal could have far-reaching implications for the Friedkin family.
To make sense of this mess, the CdT crew assembled to discuss the pros and cons of a new deal for José Mourinho. Give it a read, and please give us your thoughts below: should he stay, or should he go?
Before we delve into specifics, give us your take on the Mourinho era. Has the good outweighed the bad? How has reality stacked up with your initial expectations?
JonAS: Well, he brought us an international trophy after a long wait. Just rewatch those videos of the celebrations in and around Rome. Fans were going crazy. What a delirium. There was the EL final last season—another memorable European run, unfortunately, with a sad ending this time. But Roma suddenly was a powerhouse in Europe.
José gave us hope in dark days. Undoubtedly, he was a major influence in the Dybala/Lukaku deals and sponsors. And the resurgence of a couple of Primavera prospects. He gave our kids a lot of attention, and they also look up to José as a football legend—even a father figure.
The only “bad” thing I can think of is missing out on the top 4 for two consecutive seasons. And a bunch of dull displays from his team on the pitch, cough Slavia cough. I expected more in Serie A from José, but on the European stage, he’s probably Roma’s best coach ever. So, it depends on what you prioritize.
ssciavillo: I think that overall, the good has outweighed the bad. After all, as Jonas said, he brought us the glory of one continental trophy and then was penalty kicks away from delivering a second. Plus, the arrival of players like Dybala and Lukaku, even Ndicka and Aouar doesn’t happen without Mourinho in charge. He must also be credited with the emergence of several Primavera players, most notably Bove and Zalewski.
That said, the league finishes have left much to be desired over the last two seasons. However, much of that was due to injuries and lack of depth while prioritizing European results. If Roma can either finish in the top four or win the EL this season, his tenure is undoubtedly a positive. But, even if this year goes awry, it’s still a net positive for me, given the UECL trophy and making the EL final coupled with raising Roma’s profile.
Jimmy Miotto: I think the good has weighed the bad for the simple reason that Roma actually won a trophy. Sure, sometimes the football hasn’t been the prettiest, and it’s obviously not ideal for the Giallorossi to miss out on Champions League football multiple seasons in a row, but I agree with Steve and JonAS. Many of the stars Roma has signed recently don’t come to Roma without José, and we probably don’t get this version of Edoardo Bove without him either.
Bren: I don't put as much stock in a Conference League title as some fans; it's too contrived to hold much meaning for me. Having said that, had he followed that up with a Europa League title—which he would have with some better officiating—this debate wouldn't exist. Roma would not only have back-to-back European titles, but they'd be in the big dance this year.
And yes, you're probably correct that no Mourinho means no Dybala or Tammy (or Lukaku this year), but they're no better off now than they were with Paulo Fonseca. Sixth place is sixth place is sixth place.
So, while he's undoubtedly brought excitement to the Eternal City, it's mostly been bluster for me. I had no genuine expectations because the appointment was so surprising, seemingly coming out of left field on a random afternoon in May. Still, I would have hoped for more definitive growth on the pitch, some sign that Mourinho, Pinto, and Roma were working towards something, building a new identity—and that's been lacking in my eyes.
If Mourinho is handed a new deal, what are some things he must do differently to get better results?
JonAS: Maybe go for tabula rasa, a clean swipe, and start all over with a new formation. 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2, whatever. A bit more rotation, perhaps. I get the whole reputation and ‘Special One’ attitude, but try to stay calm for once and avoid getting suspensions. Wouldn’t that be nice?
ssciavillo: Agreed with moving away from the three-man backline. I think it handcuffs the offense too much. Also, I agree with JonAS that toning things down just a bit to avoid suspensions would be nice.
Jimmy: I would appreciate a new formation as well. I think a 4-3-1-2 makes the most sense to me based on what the squad depth looks like. Beyond that, bringing in even more academy graduates would be nice.
Bren: I hadn't even thought of a formation change, but you all certainly raise an intriguing point. This is a difficult question because it would require Mourinho, a 60-year-old tiger, to change his stripes. The anti-football approach has worn thin for me. Roma has the talent to be a more direct, attacking club. After two-plus years of enduring this passive approach, I'd gladly trade a few 1-0 wins for some 3-2 or 4-3 barnburners.
It may sound glib, but if Mourinho returns next year, he has to win more. Another sixth-place finish and his post-match peccadillos won't be dismissed quite as easily.
If Mourinho returns, what must the club do differently to get better results?
JonAS: Well, there’s only one possible answer, no? Money, money, money. Don’t negotiate for a player for five weeks and a matter of ten bucks before losing him like an amateur, and quickly aim for plans B and C. Instead, go in, make a deal, and ensure the core group is ready by July 15 or whatever so they can have a full preseason together.
Now Mourinho had to wait until the very end for a starting striker, perhaps the most important piece of all. There were already two match days played in Serie A. That’s not Mourinho’s fault.
Pushing for a new stadium would also help the club grow, attract better players and achieve better results. But that’s not entirely on the club, of course. Damn Italian bureaucracy!
Jimmy: Yeah, there are obviously a million reasons why Roma isn’t spending like a sailor, even with Mourinho in charge, but I have to imagine that Mourinho will want assurances about Tiago Pinto’s plans for the next several seasons if he’s going to sign an extension himself.
This horse has been beaten to death so much that I don’t even think the glue factory could find a use for it, but the biggest difference between Inter and Roma right now is that Roma doesn’t have similar levels of depth. There’s been a marked improvement there in the past season or two, but we still have a long way to go before we can hope for consistent Champions League football or a Scudetto challenge.
ssciavillo: Agreed with the guys here. It comes down to spending and constructing a roster before the 23rd hour of the summer mercato. I think Pinto did a pretty good job filling out the roster this summer, but so many additions arrived so late that there was no time to get the best XI ready for the first few matches, costing Roma 7 points. We all understand Roma’s financial limitations, but Mourinho will want some assurances in roster building if he stays on.
Bren: Yeah, throwing more money at the team is the most straightforward and likely correct response. And Jonas was spot-on: getting the new players signed, sealed, and delivered before August 31st would certainly help. Aside from that, the front office must figure out why injuries constantly plague this club. Is there something amiss with the club's training and recovery program? Is it the pitch? Did someone forget to knock on wood?
In some respects, these are systemic concerns that stretch past the tenure of a given manager, but buying better players, or at least being honest with their budget, is the best thing the club can do to support Mourinho next season and beyond. Don't waste time chasing a player you can't afford or one the manager doesn't want. Come up with a plan, set the budget, and, in the words of The Killer, anticipate, don't improvise.
Roma hasn’t finished higher than 6th under Mourinho, yet they’re selling out the Olimpico nearly every match. This is a thorny situation, but play the skeptic for a moment. What’s the real motivation here: optimism that Mourinho can improve next season and beyond, or is this purely financial? Can you even divorce the two? Should you?
JonAS: Yeah, people still hope for that big turnaround—the point where we finally see Roma become a juggernaut and blow away all opposition. I’m afraid under Mourinho, it’s over. I mean, three seasons in, a Dybala-Lukaku frontline, and we’re still sweating in beating Lecce or getting our ass kicked by Genoa.
After three seasons, I think the club had enough patience and gave enough chances to José. That’s not a bad thing per se. You tried, but it didn’t work out as expected. You had some nice moments together—time to move on as good friends.
Jimmy: I don’t think you can divorce those two factors, and I don’t think you should. We can talk about the mediocre league results until the cows come home. Still, it’s important to remember that a big reason why Roma isn’t waltzing to second place anymore is because the rest of the league has gotten better. It’s cold comfort when you compare the Mourinho points totals to, say, those from the second Spalletti Era, but it has to be mentioned because coaches don’t coach in a vacuum.
With all that said, it is clear that Romanisti on the ground are energized by the names that Mourinho can help bring in, and if Roma wants to build a strong financial standing (and maybe finally get that stadium), Roma needs an energized fan base. Plus... we won a cup for the first time in over a decade under Mourinho. That’s something to be celebrated.
ssciavillo: I agree with Jimmy that I don’t think the two can be divorced. After all, the fanbase is energized by having one of the best managers of his generation in charge and exciting players like Paulo Dybala and Romelu Lukaku in his ranks. Yes, the league results are underwhelming, but I think the hope remains amongst the fanbase that this squad can put on a show on any given Sunday.
If Mourinho is brought back, I think it’ll be for both reasons from an ownership perspective as well. If Mourinho can get this team to fourth place this season, for example, the hope would be that with some funds to build him a UCL-worthy roster, the league results would improve, and the stadium would continue to bring in revenues.
Bren: Yeah, if he gets Roma to the Champions League next season, all bets are off, and a new deal will likely become a sinch. If I'm being extremely skeptical, I would say that, as long as Mourinho is filling the stands and Roma are reaping that gate revenue, the Friedkins likely don't care about the standings—but I don't really believe that.
They can keep toeing this line for now, but, as we said above, the fans will get restless with mid-table finishes sooner or later. So, while we can't divorce the finance from the football, the results on the pitch ultimately drive everything. If he signs another three-year deal and misses the CL this year or next, what are the chances he’d last the length of this rumored new contract?
If the club allows Mourinho to walk next season, what type of manager should they seek as his replacement: An inventive and youth-focused coach? Another big-name celebrity manager? What traits must this new manager possess to improve on Mourinho’s work?
JonAS: We tried a couple of types. Fonseca, EDF, and Luis Enrique were those young and upcoming coaches. Zeman and Ranieri were nostalgic choices. Mourinho was the big name. To be honest, I don’t know. De Zerbi? Maybe, but who says he won’t turn into Di Francesco 2.0? Conte? He's a hothead, just like Mourinho. It could work, but it could go wrong very quickly, too.
Do we already risk giving the job to DDR? Ancelotti? He’s my favorite and demands respect from the players. But does he still have the balls to take on Roma? How long have we waited for Carlo now? Isn’t he a dinosaur, just like José with outdated ideas?
What about Spalletti? A bad Euro 2024, and he’s free next summer for a third tenure. Honestly, I don’t know anymore. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Jimmy: Roberto De Zerbi, final answer. And if any of you suggest Daniele De Rossi, you need to take a time out.
ssciavillo: I’d love De Zerbi, but I don’t see him leaving the Premier League now. He’s either coaching Brighton again next season or moving to a bigger EPL club. Conte could be similar to Mourinho, which isn’t terrible, but he’d probably demand even more spending, so how would that work out? Honestly, if Mourinho is gone, I’d love to see the club try to get Tiago Motta. He’s doing a great job at Bologna with an average roster. If given more quality, I think he can really cook at a bigger club.
Bren: Solid points all around. Daniele De Rossi would be a great story, but he has limited managerial experience, so I'd rather see him cut his teeth elsewhere before returning home. Conte would be an exciting but lateral move, while De Zerbi isn’t likely to leave the Premiership. And I'd never say no to Spalletti, but I can't imagine Italy would give him the boot so soon after hiring him.
If money is no object and the Friedkins want to make a statement, to get an up-and-coming manager whose name carries cachet, gimme Xabi Alonso. But... he's probably destined for Madrid, so I think someone like Tiago Motta is perhaps the likeliest move. Roma would be catching him at the perfect time in his career. He's done great work with Bologna, but let's see how he does with a bit more money and how he responds to higher expectations.
Make a case for Mourinho to stay
JonAS: He IS the Special One.
Jimmy: There’s a special bond here that’s been evident from Day One. Even during runs of poor form, it’s clear that Mourinho likes it in Rome, and it’s clear that the tifosi will love him through thick and thin.
ssciavillo: Mourinho may be at the point in his career where he’s content to remain at a club for more than three years and truly wants to build for the long term. He’s shown he can bring along promising youth from Roma’s strong Primavera setup. Combining that with a little more investment in the roster, he can finally start to show the results everyone expects of him.
Bren: He isn't winning a lot, but at least in Europe, he's winning when it matters. Combine that with his strong fan support and the club's sell-out streak, and it's a simple case.
Make a case for Roma to move on
JonAS: He WAS the Special One.
Jimmy: I don’t believe this, but here goes: Roma needs to grow and prioritize building a sustainable squad instead of buying aging or injury-prone stars like Paulo Dybala and Romelu Lukaku. Mourinho won’t help you there, and it’s clear that the squad as assembled is expensive and unsuccessful.
ssciavillo: Roma crashes out of EL early and still doesn’t finish top 4 despite other big clubs having up-and-down results in the league.
Bren: You may not believe it, Jimmy, but you nailed it. Roma has floundered domestically, and what little they have achieved would have been impossible without a pair of aging stars, one of whom, Dybala, can't stay on the pitch, while the other may not return next season.
That's fine in the short term. Mourinho has managed to cobble together enough results to keep the wolves at bay, but pinning your hopes on brilliant but brittle veterans isn't sustainable. The Friedkins have managed to avoid Pallotta's mistake of restarting the project every 18 months, but this is one instance in which they must move on. The club can't move forward while remaining stuck in the past.
Lastly, give us your unvarnished opinion. Should Roma bring Mourinho back next season?
JonAS: For me, the Mourinho experiment can end next June. I won’t be mad or sad if he leaves. It’s time for something new. After almost 2,5 seasons, I see too little, too few improvements. Too many letdowns like Slavia or Genoa. Turn it any way you want, but CL qualification is essential for the club. The income, the prestige, funds. Failing to qualify for three consecutive seasons should be the nail in the coffin for José. For every coach in Rome, actually.
I’m not a big fan of the whole ‘park the bus’ tactic or grinding out results. I fondly remember Spalletti’s Roma 2006-2009 and how we played back then. It was a lot more entertaining, not so dull—a different brand of football. Just give us back the joy of those days.
Jimmy: He should be back, in part because I don’t think there’s another manager who would be a good fit and in part because losing Mourinho most likely means losing Dybala and Lukaku—not to mention our best “hook” when it comes to signing intriguing young players or free agents. Totti and De Rossi used to be that hook for the club — “Come play with two legends of the game” isn’t the worst pitch in the world — but with both of them retired, Roma needs some way to ensure that good players want to come to Rome.
It certainly isn’t going to be money (or it won’t be for players who would be good enough to play in the Premier League); considering how much the Roman media environment can chew up promising players, it’s probably not the appeal of playing in Rome, either. So I’ll stick with Mourinho, at least until we get back into the Champions League (or maybe even win the Europa League).
ssciavillo: I think the dueling points made by JonAS and Jimmy are both valid and carry some weight. I think it all depends on how the rest of the season goes, but in the end, it all comes down to Mourinho’s desire. If he wants to return and Roma is in the Champions League, I think it’s a no-brainer. If the results go south and Roma finishes 6th or 7th again, it might be time to move on.
Who knows, Mourinho could win the EL and decide to leave with his legacy being two trophies and three finals. For me, it’s hard to say what Roma should do until we see how the next few months ago, especially with the gauntlet of a schedule that looms in December and January.
Bren: Nope. Thank you for the European memories, and thank you for always saying that you could have signed somewhere else. Well, now you're free to do so.
Snark aside, the results simply haven't been good enough. Even with Mourinho and even with Dybala and Lukaku, it's been a battle. Roma is a house of cards at the moment, lacking substance beyond those face cards.
Jimmy does raise an interesting point, though. Since Totti and De Rossi left the club, Roma has struggled to find their new identity. Now that the two Gods are gone, who are we? How do we find our way out of the wilderness? Is it more prudent to buy a pair of stars or to build a genuine team capable of growing together?
In my eyes, Roma and Mourinho always felt like a marriage of convenience. Neither expected the other to be single at the same time, so they jumped into bed together without really asking whether or not it was a good long-term fit.
There were some good moments, but this relationship has run its course.
Now that you've heard our say, give us your take: Should José Mourinho return next season?