Jose Mourinho up to old tricks after making clear his thoughts on Roma's squad depth

Portuguese manager has asked for reinforcements in January and made his point about meagre cover for his first XI by naming seven teenagers on the bench against Napoli

Ten minutes from full-time, the home manager received his red card. He had already been warned by a booking in the first half about what he said and gestured on the touchline. But then he annoyed the referee again as his team were grinding their way to a goalless draw. Three nights earlier, they had lost 6-1.

Yet as the manager made his way to a set in the stands, sent off, fans began to rise to their feet and applaud him. Proof that Jose Mourinho, provoker of referees, expert at styling a 0-0 as a defiant triumph and of deflecting the blame for a five-goal losing margin onto a range of people other than the head coach, still has a special power to work an audience.

His latest audience are notoriously demanding Romans. Mourinho is still new to the Italian capital, Roma having offered him a return to management soon after he lost his job at Tottenham Hotspur and tasked him with elevating them to top-four status in a Serie A he has won twice in the past with Inter Milan. But in just 14 matches in charge of Roma, he has packed in plenty of headlines.

There was the record-breaking defeat in Norway last Thursday, 6-1 at remote Bodo/Glimt, a heavier losing scoreline than this fabled, medalled coach had ever known in over 1,000 previous games in management. His reaction was corruscating towards the players in a much rotated line-up. “We have 13 players who represent one [Roma] team,” he said of those who were mostly rested in a chilly Norway. “The others are on a different level. Bodo has more quality that our starters against them had. It’s that simple.”

Some context here: Roma met Bodo/Glimt in the Europa Conference League, the new third tier of Uefa competitions; Mourinho has won the Champions League - the top tier - twice as a manager. Bodo/Glimt are ranked outside the top 150 of European clubs according to Uefa’s coefficient scale, based on performances; Roma are ranked 12th.

Though Mourinho did acknowledge he was responsible for picking the weakened starting XI, and did so mindful of fixture pile-up and the risk of injury to senior players on an artificial surface in Arctic-Circle Bodo, the message to his employers hardly needed deciphering. It is that his squad lacks depth, even though Roma spent more than almost every other Serie A club on new players in the summer.

He has asked for reinforcements in the January transfer window, and made his point about meagre cover for his first XI with the matchday party he chose for Sunday’s meeting with league pacesetters Napoli. On the bench there were seven teenagers.

Up in the stands, meanwhile, were five of the players who had lined up in Norway, fit but excluded from the visit of Napoli, a public ticking-off for their poor showing. “Now make it up to us!” read a Roma fans’ banner in the stadium. By the time Mourinho made his own way to the stand, red-carded, the applauding fans evidently thought the coach had made his amends.

A draw against Napoli is better than any other opponent in Serie A had managed through the league campaign so far. Arresting their 100 per cent record, with most of his preferred starters back, felt almost like a victory for Roma. Mourinho will look to name the same line-up tonight at Cagliari, he suggested, indicating that those banished because of Bodo will stay banished.

Victory over Cagliari, where Mourinho will be suspended from taking his place on the touchline, should also keep Roma in the top four and regain some of the momentum they had before defeats in the derby against Lazio, and to Juventus, both within the last month.

Then there’s Sunday’s visit by AC Milan, another tough assignment, but if Roma can pick up points in what looks like a kinder run of games after that, they can look forward with optimism, to possible January additions and to the return to action of injured left-back Leo Spinazzola, a star for Italy at Euro 2020.

Spinazzola, who suffered an Achilles tendon problem during Italy’s triumphant summer tournament, is expected to start training with the rest of the Roma first-team squad by early November. A fit Spinazzola will give the side width and verve. According to Mourinho’s blunt calculations, it will also take up to 14 or 15 the number of Roma players he can actually trust.

“The result in Norway remains on my record,” said Mourinho of his harsh judgement on the back-up players who failed him there. “If I put out a substitutes’ bench full of youngsters, it sends a message.”

Updated: October 27th 2021, 4:13 AM
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