Mourinho seeking reasons to be cheerful as Roma boss hails Atalanta example

By Sports Desk December 17, 2021

Jose Mourinho feels ready for a big celebration and wants Roma to give him an excuse – but he is still not sure what will qualify as success this season.

The former Chelsea, Real Madrid, Inter and Manchester United boss has taken on a tough assignment in the Italian capital, as he bids to turn Roma into a team that can compete for trophies.

They are some way off being competitive in terms of the Serie A title race, just like Tottenham in his previous job were unable to mount a sustained Premier League challenge.

Mourinho was reminded on Friday of how he and his Tottenham coaching staff showed euphoria when qualification was secured for the second-tier Europa League in July 2020, prompting the question of whether he would celebrate in the same manner should Roma reach their objectives.

"There are teams that celebrate when they avoid relegation. That's the target they have," Mourinho said. "When people talk about coaches with lots of trophies, what about those who have not won many?

"It's about the targets they have. If Thiago Motta keeps Spezia up, or Andriy Shevchenko keeps Genoa up, or Salernitana stay up… then those coaches can and should celebrate the achievement. As for your question, if you are asking me if I am ready to celebrate if we win then obviously my answer is yes.

"This season we don't have a specific target in mind, beyond what the league table says because that is a more 'measurable' yardstick of progress."

Mourinho is 17 Serie A games into his Roma reign, and true to form it has been an up-and-down journey to this point. On Saturday, Roma will tackle an Atalanta side who are much further down the road with their project.

Although Mourinho is adamant his team can win in Bergamo and continue to progress, he makes no bones about his belief that expectations of Roma this season should be put into some perspective.

He also does not hide a certain envy that his touchline rival this weekend, Gian Piero Gasperini, has had almost six years to create his squad just as he wants it, with Atalanta third in Serie A and genuine title contenders.

"There's a fundamental difference between us and Atalanta," Mourinho said in a news conference on Friday. "I've been here six months, whereas Gian Piero has been there six years. Six months, six years. And that difference is not just in the number of training sessions they've had together, but in the sharing of ideas and the identification of processes. They've had 12 transfer windows together whereas we've just had one.

"Atalanta are an amazing club, a very stable one, with a great level of collaboration between the club and Gasperini. When I was first here in Italy, they didn't have the same ambitions. But 10 years on they are now a Champions League side who are competing to win the title."

Atalanta are unbeaten in their past seven Serie A games against Roma (W4 D3), their longest streak without defeat against the capital club in league competition. 

Roma will have to overcome another aspect of their recent history if they are to come away with three points, having not won any of their previous 12 Serie A games against sides that started the matchday inside the top five (D6 L6).

They are under-performing on the expected goals (xG) front this season, with only Salernitana and Juventus having a worse differential between goals scored and xG than Roma.

Yet Mourinho's men have returned to winning ways since a stinging 3-0 defeat at Inter's hands left the Portuguese coach bitterly frustrated and facing criticism, with victories over CSKA Sofia and Spezia helping to lift the gloom.

They sit sixth heading into the weekend, with the halfway point in Mourinho's first season back in Italy almost reached.

If Roma are to succeed under his guidance, it is likely to be a slow process, and for Mourinho, previously regarded as a quick-fix boss, that may take some getting used to.

The 58-year-old has expressed frustration at the depth within his current squad, but he admires how Atalanta have built from humble foundations, and that may be a model to which Roma closely adhere.

"Theirs is definitely one that I admire, that I really like," Mourinho said, quoted on Roma's website.

"You know that I have spent many years at very different clubs. Clubs that are aggressive in the transfer market and spend a lot, because they are trying to compete right now and not just in the future.

"So, I have a lot of admiration for projects like that. That's their approach. And it has been six years. They have been smart in the market and built a really strong side while remaining economically stable. As I have already said, it's not just respect but admiration that I have for their project."

Roma have lost 12 away Serie A games in 2021 (W5 D3), including five losses out of eight under Mourinho. Only in two calendar years have they registered more defeats on the road in the top flight (16 in both 1949 and 1950).

By contrast, Atalanta have won 28 matches in 2021, at least seven more than they have managed in any other calendar year in Serie A.

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