From the minute he was hired, you knew this era in Roma history wouldn't end on normal terms, not with José Mourinho at the helm. While his resumé is beyond reproach, the Special One tends to leave his posts under less than ideal circumstances, to put it mildly. From Chelsea to Real Madrid to Manchester United to Spurs and now to Roma, the Mourinho experience tends to come unglued in the third year.
In the spring of 2021, when Roma shocked the footballing world by plucking José Mourinho out of thin air—which we now know started as a lark by Tiago Pinto—our heads were spinning. Really? Roma signed the José Mourinho? This wasn't some far-fetched rumor?
It was, in fact, real. While the Romaverse was buzzing with excitement, as Mourinho neophytes, we didn't really know what to expect. Roma couldn't gift Mourinho any player he wanted, but our cupboards weren't completely bare. To get insight into the Mourinho experience, we turned to his most recent jilted lover: Tottenham Hotspur.
Our colleagues at Cartilage Free Captain offered their insight on Spurs' experience with the Special One, and this nugget now looks remarkably prescient:
But the thing about Mourinho, and we’ve seen this again and again in his most recent appointments going all the way back to his stint at Real Madrid, is that his appointments follow a pretty predictable pattern. It starts with initial enthusiasm, plus usually a period of good play that leads to a trophy or two, but then things start to fall apart — there are inexplicable feuds with established players, grumblings of dissent, a downturn in results, a period where Mourinho throws his team under the bus and complains about not being financially backed, and then it ends with the dressing room in open revolt and Mourinho getting sacked.
Usually, it takes about three years for the full Mourinho Cycle. At Tottenham, it lasted 18 months, and we didn’t even get the trophy.
Apart from the dressing room revoting on him, which never happened in Rome, this was pretty spot on. But at least Roma got a trophy out of it—the 2022 Europa Conference League title. When taken with the club's return to a European final the following season, the ill-fated Europa League loss to Sevilla, Roma fans at least have a pair of notable accomplishments to remember fondly.
We may never truly know the justification for this morning's decision to sack Mourinho, but as ESPN's Gabriele Marcotti was quick to point out, it likely boiled down to finances and the club's standing on the table. It's one thing to eschew young talent in favor of pricey free agents, but if you can't back it up on the table and miss out on the Champions League, those contracts soon become primer for FFP fines.
More information will surely come to light in the coming days, but before we completely shift our attention to Roma's new reality, we assembled the CdT crew to discuss today's events.
Before we get into the De Rossi of it all, what did you make of the timing of José Mourinho’s sacking? Did he deserve a chance to finish out his contract?
Bren: I was definitely surprised. I didn’t think he was going to be back next fall, but I thought the Friedkins would stay the course for the remainder of the season. Changing managers mid-stream is always a dicey proposition, so I’d be curious to know what the real impetus behind this was—oh, to be a fly on that wall.
And with a relatively “easier” stretch of matches coming up, Mourinho may very well have recovered, so the timing was more surprising than the decision itself.
JonAS: Agreed, I thought they would just say ‘f*ck it’ and hang on to Mourinho until June and then start the rebuild, no contract renewal whatsoever. Just communicate that he won’t stay after June, and that would at least please some fans who were anti-Mourinho. But bad results or not, the Olimpico was still packed for the home games. Not unimportant. I guess the Friedkins couldn’t handle the drama anymore.
The timing is unusual indeed, right before 3 winnable games, and the top 4 not that far away. On the other hand, it makes the life of the new coach a bit easier. A good stretch vs. Verona, Salernitana, and Cagliari, and morale will suddenly be sky-high.
ssciavillo: The timing was certainly a bit unexpected. Just a week ago, we were talking about the possibility of a renewal being in the works. And just 24 hours ago on Across the Romaverse, Jimmy and I were debating on whether or not Mourinho would be here a month ahead of the Inter match. I thought if the firing was going to come this week it would be yesterday to give the new manager as much time as possible to get ready for the match against Verona on Saturday.
Three winnable matches. Maybe that’s why it was done now. To give De Rossi a string of matches that Roma should win to find his feet and try to get everyone feeling good about themselves ahead of the Europa League knockout rounds and the stretch run with Roma not really that far off the pace of some of the other clubs competing for Europe.
Jimmy: To echo Steve: yesterday, I thought it was about 50/50 that Mourinho would see out the month, and it’s a fact that the Friedkins don’t typically make rash moves. So the fact that I’m doing this roundtable less than forty-eight hours after that podcast got published is pretty wild. I agree with Steve that maybe Dan and Ryan wanted to give DDR an easier runway to success with these matches against Verona, Salernitana, and Cagliari — maybe they also wanted to make sure Mourinho was still manager until the expiration of Paulo Dybala’s release clause. While I think this move is probably for the best, it is a bit of a shocker to me that it happened right now.
Okay, so why De Rossi? With such limited experience, why was he tabbed as the man for the job?
Bren: If we’re being cynical about it, there’s certainly a public relations bent to this hire. Naming a club legend like De Rossi will certainly pacify the Mourinho die-hards. I mean, find me a Roma fan who hates De Rossi—you likely can’t. But if we look at his track record as a manager, there isn’t much to go on; 17 forgettable matches with SPAL in Serie B. So maybe they see something in him, but chances are he was just the safest and most expedient choice.
I love the man and hope he can succeed, but he’s coming into the job under the worst possible circumstances.
JonAS: Guys like Conte or Motta were probably not a realistic option right now, Roma’s a mess and in midseason you are left with the scraps. All the good ones will be free in Summer. DDR is the ideal caretaker, like Ranieri a couple of years ago. With low wages, he knows the club inside out.
Even if Roma remains ninth or drops to tenth or eleventh, no one is going to condemn Daniele. This is purely a choice of heart. Let’s just enjoy the ride together and try to give the fans some nice moments this season.
ssciavillo: I agree with the two of you. It’s definitely part public relations and part who else is really available right now, aside from Antonio Conte. De Rossi will come in and be the good soldier he’s always been for this club. He’ll do the best he can with the hand he’s been dealt, and nobody will bury him if things don’t go well. If they do, great, a club legend can lead the rebirth next season. If things don’t go well, maybe they part ways, De Rossi goes and gets managerial experience elsewhere and perhaps eventually comes back to lead Roma when he’s more prepared.
Jimmy: The fans love DDR (and I do too), and if there’s one thing I know The Friedkin Group cares about, it’s about keeping the tifosi happy and going to the Olimpico. Even though this season hasn’t been great, to put it mildly, all of us pointed to “the vibes” being good around the club, even at the lower points of the season. The Friedkins must be hoping that the good vibes can continue by bringing in the second-most respected Roma player of all time as the replacement for a manager who was practically an icon in Rome.
DDR has only 17 managerial matches under his belt, so predicting his tactical approach is a bit difficult. But strap on his beard for a second and play De Rossi: What changes would you make? Is there a risk of making too many changes?
Bren: Well, in those 17 matches, he used variations of the three-man backline, so, at least in theory, the squad is ready-made for him. I think that if he was hired in the spring and given a full summer training with the team, he’d be more likely to put his stamp on them tactically, but with such a short runway, I can’t imagine he’ll upset the applecart too much. I think the more interesting wrinkle will be who he plays rather than how he plays.
JonAS: Yeah, although I’d love a return to a more classic 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-1-2, it looks like he’ll use some sort of 3-4-1-2 thingy. I don’t expect a trainer masterclass from him. Daniele will try to motivate them and work on the physical and mental aspects of the game. Basics 101. Don’t overthink. Players like Spinazzola, Pellegrini, Cristante, and Belotti need to refind their top form. A couple of wins vs Verona and Salernitana could work wonders.
ssciavillo: I don’t think a whole ton will change in terms of set-up, considering the point we’re at in the season and the fact that he used the back three with SPAL. Personnel choices could be interesting, as Bren mentioned. Could he be the one to reignite the fire in players like Pellegrini, Spinazzola, and others? He could very well be. Nobody knows how to navigate the Capital in a leadership role better than him. And you’d imagine this could be a great move for a player like Edoardo Bove. My hope is that even if he sticks with the 3-4-1-2 or 3-5-2 look, that we get a little more in terms of ideas going forward. Roma’s attack looked stale too often for me.
Also, all of a sudden, maybe that friendly in Saudi Arabia next week actually becomes useful and gives De Rossi a chance to tinker and try some different ideas and player combinations.
Jimmy: I can’t imagine that scheduling the friendly in Saudi Arabia was an intentional way for a new manager to work out the kinks, but wow, imagine if that was a real 4-D chess move on the part of Tiago Pinto and the Friedkins. I’d have to tip my cap. I agree with the rest of the guys here — don’t overthink it, get the easy points, and try to continue down the path towards the Europa League final. Easier said than done, of course, but hey, there’s always a chance Roma gets a bounce purely from bringing in a new manager, even if the tactics aren’t shifted too much.
What’s the biggest challenge De Rossi will face as Roma’s interim manager?
Bren: Take your pick: the schedule, the injuries, the lack of depth, etc. The most immediate challenge he’ll face is simply establishing momentum. Getting a win this weekend would cure a lot of ails for De Rossi as he looks to find his footing as a top-flight manager.
Above all else, he has to find a creative spark for the club when Dybala is hurt or absent, to find some way to maintain a sense of fluidity without La Joya. In that respect, I suppose the general lack of depth will be his biggest challenge, just as it was for Mourinho.
JonAS: Definitely injuries and the list of absentees. In his first game his only healthy defenders available are Llorente and Huijsen. Good luck. Maybe somewhere in April, he’ll be able to field his best and strongest XI.
ssciavillo: In essence, it’s really all the same issues Mourinho faced that were mentioned above. Plus, throw in the fact that he’s taking command of a sinking ship and has very little managerial experience. He’s got his work cut out for him.
Jimmy: It’s gotta be the unavailable players. DDR will likely be without *takes a deep breath* Dybala, Abraham, Smalling, Cristante, Mancini, Ndicka, Kumbulla, Aouar, Azmoun, and Renato Sanches for his first match. On the bright side, that means his starting eleven is largely picked for him. On the dark side... he better have a lucky rabbit’s foot at the ready to make sure no more injuries or suspensions happen while AFCON and the AFC Cup are happening.
He’s coming to the gig under less-than-ideal circumstances, but what are some immediate positives De Rossi brings to the job? What can he offer that Mourinho couldn’t?
Bren: I shouldn’t have phrased this as a zero-sum question, but De Rossi played with, and against several of the players on the squad, so he should be able to relate to them in a way no other manager could. And then there’s the Roma of it all. Apart from Francesco Totti, no player in club history looms as large as De Rossi, so he will command immediate respect. The combination of those two factors should make it easier for him to build relationships with his players and get them to “buy in” to this new project.
In terms of tactics, I just hope he’s a bit more flexible than Mourinho, but we won’t know that until the going gets tough.
JonAS: Nostalgia, romanticism. We all envisioned Daniele as a future Roma coach but not exactly right now. Then again, the pressure is a lot less as a caretaker these six months, so he can work freely and not be afraid to make decisions. The Friedkins will give him time and space to grow.
Only 40 years and retired not so long ago, Daniele is more like ‘one of the guys’, unlike Mourinho, who was more of a (strict) father figure. I reckon the relationship between DDR and the players will be more casual and less nervy. In particular Pellegrini. Both Roman midfielders, both captains. That could turn into something very special.
ssciavillo: The obvious answer is that De Rossi knows this club and will command respect like nobody else aside from Francesco Totti at Roma. That immediately buys him more leash than any other interim manager could ever have.
I think he should bring fresh enthusiasm to the job, too. You’d have to think that DDR has been wanting this since he retired from playing, so he was never going to say no when Roma called. It should make for a nice change up to the gripes that Morinho was continuously throwing out there of late–even though he often was saying what many others were thinking and probably don’t have the clout to express publicly.
I also believe that his hiring could be good for many players on an individual level. He can relate to many of them, and I think he could help bring players like Pellegrini psychologically back to a place where they can excel.
Jimmy: Respect, enthusiasm, and emotional connection are the biggest pluses to Daniele De Rossi becoming Roma’s manager. That would be true no matter when he became Roma’s manager, and I always thought it would happen at some point, though I had hoped it would happen after he had more experience. Still, life is what happens when you’re making other plans, so I have to have some optimism that DDR will be the right fit in a medium-to-long-term sense.
Like Bren, I hope that we get more tactical flexibility, but given how many players are simply unavailable, I don’t really know if that is possible. We’re in a very high-variance situation with the Giallorossi right now, to put it mildly.
Finally, what will constitute a successful season for De Rossi as Roma’s manager?
Bren: In the bare minimum, I think he just needs to walk away with a winning record—as sad as that might sound. Given everything we’ve discussed, he is facing an enormous challenge. The injuries, the schedule, and the lack of depth would test any interim manager’s skill, let alone one with virtually no experience.
Pie in the sky: he gets us back into the Europa League. If he can do that, I’d say he warrants a full season as manager next year. But I think the Champions League is simply a bridge too far at this point.
JonAS: Survive until June and avoid Serie B. Really, that’s all he has to do. I just want him to gain experience, enjoy the ride, a win here and there to keep the fans happy.
Trust me, guys, lower your expectations, and you’re forever a happy man (I hope my girlfriend is not reading this). Let’s not make the mistake of burning Daniele’s career before it even started. However, a derby win would be very welcome at this point.
ssciavillo: I agree that having a winning record and finishing in a Europa League spot would probably constitute a success at this point. Anything else, like a deep Europa League run or finishing in a Champions League place, would be almost miraculous. I just hope he does enough to show that he’s ready for the job Roma activates the renewal clause, and the relationship goes on longer than six months.
The ideal for Roma would be that this turns into a Xabi Alonso situation at Bayer Leverkusen–a young manager with fresh ideas who reinvigorates the clubs and leads them into becoming a true contender–but with a hometown, ROMAntic spin.
Jimmy: I’m hoping for a little more than JonAS... relegation, really? “Lower your expectations” isn’t really in my vocabulary, and given how close Roma still is to a top-four or top-five finish, I’m going to continue to hope and expect that Roma will reach fourth or fifth by the end of the season. Beating Feyenoord in the Europa League is a minimum expectation for me as well, but after that, it’ll be gravy in the EL.
I have no idea what to expect from Daniele De Rossi as Roma’s manager. That doesn’t mean I can’t hope for the best.