Sport: Mourinho May Have the Pieces at Roma for More Second-Season Magic

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The second season at a club is typically where Mourinho has found success, and there’s reason to believe more could follow in the Italian capital.

Of all the memorable quips throughout José Mourinho’s illustrious career, there is one that still echoes back toward him. Famous soundbites nominating himself as “The Special One” and “not Harry Potter” immortalized him in the banter Hall of Fame, but in 2018 with Manchester United, after an early-season loss to Spurs, he issued a measure to his career.

“Hegel says, ‘The truth is in the whole,’” Mourinho said with his trademark arrogance.

Citing one of the founding figures of western philosophy in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the soundbite answered whether he could still consider himself “one of the greatest managers in the world.” His point: Look at the entire portrait, not just one snapshot before you judge a career.

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Since winning the 2016–17 Europa League, Mourinho endured the longest stretch of his career without a trophy, leading to questions about when such a turbulent snapshot would become the whole portrait. But after a promising start and a sixth-place finish at AS Roma last year, it is his second season in the Italian capital that could provide more clarity on how such a proclamation applies to his career.

Mourinho’s Roma is seeking to build on the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League title won last season. Luca Carlino/NurPhoto/Imago Images © Provided by Sports Illustrated Mourinho’s Roma is seeking to build on the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League title won last season. Luca Carlino/NurPhoto/Imago Images

While the curse of the sophomore slump shrouds sports figures, Mourinho’s success has been defined by his second season. The Portuguese manager has won the league title five times in his second season with a club: Porto in 2003–04, Chelsea in ’05–06, Inter Milan in ’09–10, Real Madrid in ’11–12 and Chelsea again in ’14–15. It’s not a guarantee, of course. Highly anticipated stints with Manchester United and Tottenham weren’t as glorious.

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But after delivering AS Roma its first trophy in 13 years with the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League title, there is reason for Giallorossi fans to be optimistic heading into the upcoming season. Add what appears to be a successful transfer window to the formula, and optimism starts to bleed into excitement as Roma chases its fourth Scudetto and first since 2000-01.

Excitement was clearly in the air when the club introduced star signing Paulo Dybala to more than 10,000 fans at the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, now home to the Fendi headquarters. Then came the arrival of Georginio Wijnaldum, a stalwart midfield presence, on loan from PSG.

Those sterling additions, along with a Mourinho favorite in Nemanja Matić and Lille right back Zeki Çelik, give Roma a certain depth rarely seen since its last Serie A title, which came from a side blessed with generational talents like Francesco Totti, Cafu and Gabriel Batistuta. And that goes without mentioning the full return of Leonardo Spinazzola, who missed most of last season with an Achilles injury after being named to the Euros Team of the Tournament.

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While the power and pull of a coach like Mourinho may have drawn players like Dybala and Wijnaldum to his Roma project, it appears to have also kept one of Roma’s stars at the Stadio Olimpico. According to reports in Italy, Spurs had an agreement in place to sign 23-year-old attacking midfielder Nicolò Zaniolo this summer before Mourinho swooped in to block it. And if the decision holds, it may prove to be a deciding factor in Roma’s upcoming campaign.

“Mourinho is one of the best coaches in the world,” Zaniolo told UEFA.com during Roma’s run to the Europa Conference League title. “He instilled in everyone the art of never giving up, of always giving our all, of coming together for each other to bring home a result. … With a manager who knows how to win, I think we have more chances.”

Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto/Imago Images © Provided by Sports Illustrated Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto/Imago Images

The Europa Conference League victory, where Zaniolo scored the match-winner in the final against Feyenoord, gave Mourinho his first trophy in five years while giving him a 5-for-5 record in European titles. But winning a tournament created in 2021 pales in comparison to the challenges, and thrill, of winning Serie A.

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AC Milan enters as the reigning champion after ending an 11-year title drought, and it opens the season Saturday in one of two curtain-raising matches (Sampdoria-Atalanta is the other). However, its crosstown rival, Inter, appears to be the widespread favorite after falling two points shy of a second straight title. The summer additions of striker Romelu Lukaku, goalkeeper André Onana and versatile forward Joaquín Correa only add to Inter’s title expectations.

Then, there are powers like Juventus and Napoli to grapple with in what seems to be a highly competitive race for the top four. While Napoli lost key pieces in Dries Mertens and Kalidou Koulibaly, Juventus has made splashes for Paul Pogba, Ángel Di Maria and Bremer while cleaning house of big contracts and faded stars weighing down the club.

But Serie A is still the league best-suited toward Mourinho’s strengths as a defensive and tactical mastermind. After all, he is the last manager of an Italian club to win the treble (2010–11 Inter Milan). His 43-match home winning streak in Serie A, which ended last season against AC Milan, was the longest streak in nearly 30 years. While Roma isn’t at the head of the pack in the preseason title conversation, it would be foolish to rule the Giallorossi out of a sensational run.

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Mourinho is revered at Roma, where he enters his second season as manager. Andrea Staccioli/Insidefoto/Imago Images © Provided by Sports Illustrated Mourinho is revered at Roma, where he enters his second season as manager. Andrea Staccioli/Insidefoto/Imago Images

Rather than be summed up by his viral soundbites and tirades, Mourinho offered a reflective musing this preseason that may best define his legacy at its core.

“If you are not in love with football and you achieve everything there is to achieve in football, you just quit and you enjoy your medals. And you enjoy your life outside football,” Mourinho told Sky Sports last month.

“But if you love football, you do not want to stop. If you love football, you do not feel that you are getting older. You feel fresh, you feel young and that feeling goes until your last days. So, the motivation is part of the DNA.”

If the Europa Conference League brought him to tears last year, imagine how Mourinho would react to a Serie A title few had him pegged to win. Actually, it would be a fitting reminder of the classic José Mourinho, rather than the temperamental bully who burned out and burned bridges during his last two jobs.

In essence, it may very well reveal the truth in the whole legend that has become the Special One.

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Roma: Allan suggested for the midfield .
tensed hours at the Roma looking for a midfielder as a replacement for Georgino Wijnaldum. The shin bone injury will put the former PSG player out of action for several months, which is why those responsible for the Giallorossi do everything to give Mourinho another useful profile for the midfield. © Getty Obviously the possible incoming names are wasted. According to today's edition of IL Messaggero, the former Napoli player Allan should also be among the proposed profiles.

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