José Mourinho is a creature of habit. When the self-anointed Special One takes over at a new club, good, immediate results tend to follow. It happened at Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Chelsea for a second time, and even his underwhelming stints at Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur kicked off with promise. Now that he’s at Roma, still in that rosy honeymoon period, well before the almost inevitable rebellion, it’s no surprise that the wolves of Italian soccer have emerged as the most fun team in the country.
The latest Roma match was the most thrilling one yet. Though the hosting Romans jumped out to a 1–0 lead against Sassuolo over the weekend, the neroverdi struck back early in the second half. Unlike so many supposed “underdogs,” Sassuolo took the game directly to Roma. Both teams had a pretty equal amount of possession (51 percent to the visitors) and shots (a 17–14 edge for the hosts). It was a tight, intense, entertaining match, and either team could have claimed the three points. Seeing as this is Mourinho’s opening run, though, naturally it had to be Roma.
In the 91st minute, a failed clearance by Sassuolo’s Gian Marco Ferrari landed at the foot of Roma striker Eldor Shomurodov, who one-touched it to Stephan El Shaarawy, the former prodigy-turned-journeyman, who in turn curled the ball in off the post.
The winning goal was more the result of fortune and individual brilliance than tactics, so it’s not like Mourinho himself deserves all the credit for masterminding it. Which is still a compliment to the manager; in the early stages of Mourinho’s tenures, moments of individual brilliance seem to become the norm. There’s no statistical explanation as to why a Roma team that finished a respectable, if disappointing, seventh in the league last season is now in a three-way tie for first after three games. The Mourinho Effect, real or imagined, has been enough, as has his willingness to let this particular pack of wolves roam free.
In the three games to date—the Sassuolo victory, a 4–0 demolition of newly promoted Salernitana, and a wild 3–1 victory over Fiorentina—Roma has averaged 18.7 shots per game, which leads Serie A by over two shots per contest. Shots taken aren’t the end-all be-all metric for determining a team’s attacking prowess, but combined with a third-highest possession average of 57.1 percent, the stats do point to a team that is breaking away from Mourinho’s reputation as a defensive manager. All those shots have Roma tied for the league lead in goals, with midfield partners Jordan Veretout (3 goals) and Lorenzo Pellegrini (2) leading the way.
Though attacking soccer is fun both to watch and to play, no one is having a better time than Mourinho right now, particularly after the Sassuolo victory, which marked his 1,000th match as a manager. Just watch his sprinting celebration in the goal above, or check out any of his interviews, in which his party line appears to be “this time will be different.” Fans of teams with Mourinho at the helm have been bitten by that particular snake before, but maybe it doesn’t matter. So many managers come in and flame out at new projects from the start; is it so bad that Mourinho gets clubs one or two good years before the wheels come off?
It could all fall apart; it always has with Mourinho, after all. But as Serie A enters a period of transition, one in which Juventus’s hegemony has finally been broken and Inter’s potential one looks to have been broken up before it could establish itself, the question is simple: Why not Roma? There’s no reason a team this talented and free-flowing can’t keep this up for one season of glory. Mourinho might not be there to build anything up long-term, aside from his own reputation, but in him, Roma has the perfect manager for what promises to be a wild Serie A season.
Harder opponents will come, and stories of locker room dissent are bound to follow, but for now, there’s nothing more fun in Italy than a Roma match. That will surely change eventually, but maybe later than sooner.