AS Roma are without a doubt one of the largest clubs in Italian football – they are also among its largest underachievers. Years of yo-yo performances under James Pallotta had left Romanisti worrying if things would ever return to the peak of the Francesco Totti and Daniele de Rossi days.
Throw in the regular removal of homegrown talent from the side, and fan fears were justified.
The arrival of Jose Mourinho, the first hire of the Friedkin Group era, looks to have changed things for the better. Now, the Giallorossi look like one of the more secure, comfortable teams in the Italian game. In the UEFA Conference League, they are among the favourites – and began their journey to the Final with a 5-1 demolition of CSKA-Sofia.
The Bulgarians took the lead with a sweet goal from Graeme Carey before Roma captain Lorenzo Pellegrini scored a stunning chipped finish. What followed was a goal glut, with Pellegrini, Tammy Abraham, and Gianluca Mancini all getting involved in the scoring. New signing Eldor Shomudorov hit the post, too, in what was a fantastic night for Mourinho and co.
The Portuguese, though, clearly has some work to do to get all players following his instructions without failure. Central defender Gianluca Mancini scored the fourth goal of the night, though he admitted that he disobeyed his coaches orders by going forward for the corner, saying: “He told me to stay back during corner kicks, but I felt I could score, so I ran all the way up and when I scored, I went to tell it to him,”
Mourinho himself was whimsical on the matter, saying via social media: “When a player asks you to go in the box for a corner and you say no but then he goes and scores… You can only smile,”
Are Roma on the track to success?
A club with a fanatical following but a bare trophy cabinet, Roma have not lifted a trophy since the 2008 Copa Italia. However, club captain Pellegrini – who himself is very close to agreeing on new terms – looks reborn under Mourinho and is playing the best football of his Roma career. According to the hometown hero, things are only going to get better, too.
A brace on the evening does not do the captains’ performance justice, as his drive from midfield was integral in turning a 0-1 deficit into a 5-1 mauling. Speaking to Sky Sport Italia after the game, Pellegrini said: “This is just the beginning. There is something special at Trigoria this year, a feeling since Mourinho arrived that I’ve never felt before at this club.
“We have to continue like this and keep improving if we want to win something. You can just sense something special that I personally have not felt before at Roma.”
For Roma fans, then, this could be the beginning of a fresh new era. Not since arguably the first Luciano Spalletti era has it felt like Roma have something as impressive as this building.
With more work to be done and more squad building to be done, though, Mourinho will be keen to keep the plaudits to a minimum until he is parading around the Stadio Olimpico with a trophy in hand and UEFA Champions League qualification guaranteed.