Ironically, before one of the most important home games of the season for José Mourinho, there is talk in Rome of farewell and sanctions instead of new beginnings and visions. Ahead of the semi-final first leg of the Europa League between AS Roma and Bayer Leverkusen this Thursday (21.00 CET in the F.A.Z. live ticker for the Europa League and on RTL) at the Olympic Stadium, there is increasingly open talk that the self-proclaimed "Special One" could not fulfil his contract, which runs until mid-2024, and could move to Paris Saint-Germain after the end of this season.
Political correspondent for Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Malta, based in Rome.
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In addition, there is the abstruse wiretapping affair, which could result in a severe punishment for the 60-year-old Portuguese star coach. At the away game in Monza on May 3, Mourinho had put a microphone in his jacket – for his "protection" because of a possible war of words with referee Daniele Chiffi, as he said. There was a prompt argument with Chiffi – for Mourinho "the worst referee I've met in my entire career" – and a warning against Mourinho in the first half.
He is now threatened with a harsh sanction from the Italian Football Federation, which has stood behind its FIFA referee Chiffi because of the matter with the hidden microphone. With his bizarre behaviour at Monza, Mourinho added to the damage to his team, who had dropped important points in the battle for participation in European competitions in the draw in Lombardy against Silvio Berlusconi's new club. It is said that Mourinho could be suspended for several matches in Serie A.
Mourinho has had some obsessions in his great coaching career – in Portugal, Spain, England and Italy – without any significant damage to his career. The affair with Chiffi could be different, at least as far as the section of his career in Italy is concerned. The Italian coaches' association has also sharply criticised Mourinho's behaviour.
Next stop France?
Things have been going quite well for Mourinho since his arrival in Rome in the summer of 2021. In his very first season, he won a title: in the inaugural UEFA Conference League. Winning the cup was accompanied by qualification for the 2022/23 Europa League, in which the Giallorossi immediately fought their way to the semi-finals against Leverkusen.
Should Mourinho win his second title in the second year – in Europe's second most important club competition – AS Roma would earn many millions of euros in the Champions League next season. And Mourinho would increase his reputation as a coaching champion.
But in Serie A, the Giallorossi had already run out of steam last season. In the end, it was only enough for sixth place. In the cup, the quarter-finals against Inter Milan had already come in February. This season, too, Mourinho has had to replenish his hospital squad with players from the youth team since March. And this season, too, the Coppa Italia came to an end in February: the defeat against US Cremonese at home at the Stadio Olimpico was a humiliation.
With four matchdays to go, Roma are seventh in Serie A and would miss out on qualifying for UEFA competitions. Local rivals Lazio, with whom they share the Olympic Stadium as a venue, are in third place and have six points more to their name.
If it were to remain at this distance, it would be another humiliation. But the Tifosi, including the club's management around American investor and owner Dan Friedkin, are currently behind Mourinho: one does not forget that he brought a European Cup to Rome again in 2022 after four decades and kept the chance of another victory in a UEFA competition in 2023.
When Mourinho arrived in Rome in 2021, there was a lot of planning and buying: from eventual Argentina World Cup winner Paolo Dybala to England striker Tammy Abraham and Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum to Portugal international goalkeeper Rui Patrício.
But it remains to be seen whether the Giallorossi can still count on Mourinho in the squad planning for the coming season and in the realization of the vision of building a new stadium. The semi-finals against Leverkusen are like finals for Mourinho. At least in Italy and for AS Roma. Next stop France? There, "The Special One" has not yet led a club to a triumph.