'The worst coach of the last 10 years' - Jose Mourinho's third-season struggles are starting again at Roma

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The Giallorossi desperately need to beat Empoli on Sunday given tension is already building at Trigoria over the strength of the squad

Nearly four months after waiting in the car park below the Puskas Arena to verbally abuse referee Anthony Taylor and his fellow officials, Jose Mourinho is still fuming over their handling of the Europa League final. "If I say what I think, I will get banned for 10 games," the Roma coach told Sky Sport Italia just last week.

Coming from Mourinho, such bitterness is as unsurprising as it is unjustified. 'The Special One' doesn't just hold grudges; he clings onto them for dear life. He's still not over Luis Garcia's 'ghost goal', for example, and even when his outrageous claims are found to be completely baseless, he never issues an apology. Just ask Anders Frisk.

It almost goes without saying, then, that there was nothing remotely untoward about Taylor's officiating in Budapest. The only "f*cking disgrace" that night was the conduct of Mourinho, his players and his coaching staff - which unquestionably led to Roma fans abusing the Englishman as he and his family were attempting to board a flight out of Budapest the following morning. So, it's honestly a little sad that he's still harping on about this perceived injustice.

  1. Blaming referees again

    But then, targeting officials has always been one of the Portuguese manager's preferred methods of distraction from his own team's failings. And he was at it again just before the international break.

    Less than 10 minutes into Roma's third outing of the Serie A season, against AC Milan at Stadio Olimpico, VAR alerted the match referee to a foul on Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the area by goalkeeper Rui Patricio.

    It was the correct call and yet Mourinho - who was making his first appearance on the bench of the season after being suspended for Roma's first two fixtures - was inevitably outraged. He sarcastically applauded the referee while calling the decision to award a penalty "shameful". Milan boss Stefano Pioli responded by telling his Roma counterpart to keep quiet.

    And, in a way, Mourinho did. For the umpteenth time since returning to Serie A, he petulantly refused to talk to the press after the game.

  2. Dressing-room dust-up?

    Dressing-room dust-up?

    However, there were plenty of harsh words spoken in the Roma dressing room after a 2-1 loss to a team that had played the final half hour with just 10 men, following Fikayo Tomori's dismissal for a second yellow card.

    What's really interesting, though, is that Radio Radio claimed that it wasn't just Mourinho who let rip. Apparently, certain senior players also raised their voices, allegedly calling on Mourinho to provide better tactical instructions to his struggling side. Consequently, there is a legitimate fear that Roma might be about to suffer from the kind of third-year meltdown that Mourinho has previously endured at Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester United.

    Mourinho's intensity is, of course, the stuff of legend at this stage. It is part of what makes him such a successful coach and a master motivator. We've all heard normally mild-mannered players like Wesley Sneijder talking about how Mourinho got them so riled up that they were willing to die for him.

    But such ferocity can take its toll. Hungarian legend Bela Guttman famously argued that "the third year is fatal" for coach, essentially that familiarity breeds contempt - or at the very least tiredness - and the concern is that Roma's players, who have willingly followed Mourinho into battle for two years now, conquering the Europa Conference League along the way, are now war-weary.

  3. Rotten results, even uglier performances

    Rotten results, even uglier performances

    The Giallorossi have picked up just one point so far this season, but the strangely subdued performances have been even more worrying than the dismal results. According to long-time Mourinho critic Antonio Cassano, the fans are finally realising what he has been telling them for the past two years: that the new Roman Emperor has no clothes.

    "People criticised me for what I said, but he is the worst coach of the last 10 years," the former Giallorossi forward told Bobo TV. "He has made Roma play in an unworthy, disgusting way. It's all smoke and mirrors with him. I don't care about the results he has achieved.

    "We've had him for two years, the club has spent a lot, not as others say, and also this year they have taken some players. But I can't see them put three passes together against Salernitana. Against Verona, I saw shameful football, with brawls and errors. People who go to the stadium don't deserve this.

    "[Leandro] Paredes, Evan Ndicka, [Houssem] Aouar are all strong players. But with Mourinho, no team plays decently. Football must entertain people but this ethos has never been seen in Mou's career. At the time things were going well, (fans were) on his bandwagon, but now that they're starting to smell something burning."

  4. Incessant injury issues

    Incessant injury issues

    Whatever one's opinion on Mourinho's brand of anti-football, the key issue here is why it might have stopped working - and one possible explanation is fatigue.

    There is, as Andrea Pugliese wrote in the Gazzetta dello Sport, "the impression that the third Roma of Jose Mourinho is physically flat and that their brains are 'fried', in the sense that many of the key players from the first two seasons (Bryan Cristante, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Gianluca Mancini, Chris Smalling, Rui Patricio and Leonardo Spinazzola) are out of juice (Roma played 108 games during that time) and that they have arrived in this third year exhausted and, in part, empty from a motivational point of view."

    It's certainly true that Roma are not blessed with the deepest pool of talent in Serie A, meaning Mourinho has had to rely heavily on the same players week in, week out since taking over in the summer of 2021. Indeed, he's often argued - with some degree of justification - that Roma's league form has suffered because of their impressive continental exploits, sniping that city rivals Lazio were only able to finish second in Serie A last season because they treated Europe like a "holiday" before getting knocked out of the Conference League in the middle of March.

    Roma certainly seem to be feeling the effects of reaching back-to-back European finals while at the same time trying - and failing - to finish in Italy's top four. Striker Tammy Abraham and defender Marash Kumbulla are both sidelined with serious injuries and unlikely to play again before the turn of the year, while summer signings Renato Sanches and Aouar are both struggling with minor muscular problems at the moment.

    Mourinho has even pointed out that Roma are forced to take a risk on players with poor injury records like Sanches because of their ongoing efforts to comply with UEFA's Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. For example, the club spent less than €10m (£8.6m/$10.7m) this summer on players but even then couldn't register either Sardar Azmoun and Rasmus Kristensen for the Europa League.

    Hardly surprising, then, that Mourinho was so concerned about the Aouar getting injured in a feisty pre-season friendly with Partizan that he took the Algerian off even though he had already made all of his substitutions, thus forcing Roma to finish the game with 10 men.

  5. Lukaku and Dybala to the rescue?

    It was also during pre-season that Mourinho sent a very clear message to his bosses by posing with an imaginary player in Roma's team photo.

    The Friedkin family finally delivered the forward that Mourinho had been awaiting by pulling out the stops to sign Romelu Lukaku just before the close of the transfer window - president Dan Friedkin even flying the plane that brought the Belgian to Rome - and the hope now is that the former Inter man can kick-start his career in the Italian capital.

    Lukaku certainly made a positive impact off the bench in his first appearance for Roma, in that loss at home to Milan, and there is no denying the exciting potential of his partnership with Paulo Dybala, which we could witness for the first time this weekend, when Empoli visit the Olimpico.

    The big question is, though, how often will they actually line up alongside one another, given their respective fitness issues over the past year?

  6. 'We have to win - and that's it'

    'We have to win - and that's it'

    All Mourinho can really do is put his trust in his medical team while concentrating on what he can control, not least sorting out a defence that has conceded twice in every single Serie A game so far.

    The two-time Champions League winner also has major problem to address in midfield, with the erratic Paredes actually looking like a downgrade on veteran No.6 Nemanja Matic - whose move to Rennes stunned his team-mates - and the Argentine's arrival having had a negative effect on Cristante, who is struggling in a slightly more advanced role.

    Cristante admitted after the Milan loss that the players were just as upset as their manager, and that they simply had to sort themselves out during the international break. "We must start picking up points," he said. "There's nothing else to say: we have to win and that's it."

    And he's right: the time for excuses is over. Referees aren't to blame for Roma's rotten start to the season. It's time for Mourinho to move on. Otherwise, the tricky third year could once again prove fatal.