It was all good a year ago. Hell, it was all good a few months ago. Under José Mourinho, Roma started off so well last season, getting the immediate Special One Bump and earning a blog from yours truly after a wild 2-1 victory over Sassuolo that capped off a brilliant start to the season. Though Roma did not keep that form up and challenge for the Serie A title, the giallorossi jumped up one year-over-year spot on the table to sixth, and won the Europa Conference League along the way.
With the introduction of Paulo Dybala from Juventus this summer, Roma looked ready to take another step in Mourinho’s second season. That has not happened, and it’s fitting that another match against Sassuolo was the catalyst for an unwelcome (if you are a Roma fan) return to form for Mourinho.
After a listless 1-1 draw in Reggio against the neroverdi on Wednesday, Mourinho went on the warpath against one of his own players. In the post-match press conference, Mourinho blasted an unnamed Roma player’s attitude, saying, “It’s a difficult time for the team, but I liked the effort that everyone put in, but I must also say to you all that I’m really disappointed with the attitude of one player who let the team down through a lack of professionalism on the pitch.”
He went on to say that he does not blame players for mistakes—”I make mistakes too and as a family we need to support each other”—but that he can’t abide by unprofessional attitudes. Mourinho declined to name the player, but he shared with reporters that he told the player to find a new club during the January transfer window.
So, who is the player? According to Italian outlet Correire dello Sport, it is Dutch wingback Rick Karsdorp, who was at fault for Sassuolo’s equalizer. As noted by The Guardian, Karsdorp had been involved in a minor, controversial moment over the weekend, as he skipped past the manager and the bench after a substitution to go straight into the locker room. (Mourinho stated after that game that Karsdorp had gone back to get ice, “for his knee, his hamstring, or his fever.”)
It’s almost irrelevant who the player in Mourinho’s cross-hairs is, though. What’s more important for Roma is whether this is an isolated incident caused by an unprofessional player, or a sign of storms to come. Mourinho is an excellent manager, one of the best in the history of European soccer, but he is also far and away its biggest chaos agent. Whether it’s by repeatedly poking Arsene Wenger in the press or just by causing turmoil in his own locker rooms, Mourinho is followed by both success and a flurry of disaster wherever he goes.
Most recently, he left Tottenham Hotspur after 17 months in charge, and the team was mentally broken by his short stint. It took two more managers and the hiring of Antonio Conte to fix those issues (god, when Conte is the fix for turmoil, you know you’ve goofed). Now, Roma must begin to wonder whether it can see its future by looking at Mourinho’s past. This habit of blaming players is not new to the Special One; at Real Madrid, he managed to alienate the legendary Iker Casillas, of all people. That feud eventually contributed to Mourinho’s departure from the Spanish capital.
Roma has had some awful injury luck this season—Dybala is out possibly until after the World Cup, Gini Wijnaldum is out for even longer, and Lorenzo Pellegrini is out until 2023 after a leg injury picked up in Roma’s loss to hated rivals Lazio over the weekend—and still managed to pull decent enough results out of the bag. The club currently has more points than it did at this point last year. So, perhaps, Mourinho is just trying to cull the chaff from his team and focus on players who want to win despite missing so many luminaries.
Maybe, though, Mourinho sees the writing on the wall and is getting started early on his usual tradition: Blame everyone but himself so that he may escape this stint with his reputation merely dinged, rather than destroyed. It’s a plan that has always worked out quite well for him, and never so well for the teams he leaves behind. Roma will have to hope that this is not the case, or it will end up getting exactly what every team always does when it hires Mourinho as a salve, only to bring on a completely different and equally horrifying disease.