From the Sacking of Mourinho to the De Rossi Experiment

Just four hours after Roma confirmed the sacking of ‘The Special One’, Jose Mourinho, the Giallorossi announced that club legend Daniele De Rossi would be the one to take his place in the dugout. De Rossi, 40, spent 18 years as a player at Roma and gained respect throughout his career as a no-nonsense tough-tackling general in the heart of their midfield. A World Cup winner with the Azzurri in 2006, De Rossi will command the respect of the dressing room right away.

However, from a managerial perspective, De Rossi’s CV leaves much to be desired. His only experience as a manager to date came at SPAL in Serie B, where he was sacked after less than 20 games in charge. It certainly seems to be a huge gamble to give him the reigns after his uninspiring career to date.

In this article, we’ll talk through why Roma took the decision to sack Mourinho, why they turned to De Rossi, and an overview of his brief stint at Spal.

Why Did Roma Sack Jose Mourinho?

On the surface, it’s easy to see why the Giallorossi fired the Portuguese coach. Languishing ninth in the table, and out of the cup after a feisty 1-0 defeat to arch-rivals Lazio last week, they’ve won just three of their last 10 outings. As tends to happen when Mourinho is manager, the team has certainly suffered a third-season slump. Throughout his illustrious career, the 60-year-old has never managed to stay at one club for more than three years.

Over the full year 2023, Roma played 41 times in Serie A, amassing a worrying 13 defeats. Mourinho’s touchline behaviour has also been a cause of trouble in the Eternal City. Since the start of his tenure at the Stadio Olimpico, he’s been sent off six times for his customary touchline antics.

However, when one digs deeper, it becomes more difficult to understand the decision to part ways with Mourinho. Sacking a manager, particularly one that seems to still be popular with the players and fans, in the middle of a season is not ideal. Throw in the fact that they’ve replaced a two-time Champions League winner and a man with endless experience with a man who has as little managerial experience as De Rossi, and it seems an even more puzzling decision.

It would be all well and good if Roma were to sack Mourinho and had a proven manager lined up to replace him. Antonio Conte, Hansi Flick, and Joachim Low come to mind. Even someone more proven than De Rossi, say Julen Lopetegui, Lucien Favre, or Quique Setien, would perhaps be a more stable option until the end of the season.

During his time at the club, despite not being able to compete financially with the other big clubs in Italy, Roma were able to attract high-profile players such as Paulo Dybala, Romelu Lukaku, Tammy Abraham, Leandro Paredes, and Renato Sanches. Dybala, the pick of the bunch, referenced Mourinho as a huge factor in pulling him away from Juventus to Rome.

This calibre of player was previously unattainable for the club before Mourinho’s reign. It looks to be once again unattainable now that he’s gone.

The Portuguese maverick brought the club its first piece of silverware in 14 years in 2022, beating Feyenoord 1-0 to win the UEFA Conference League. He also guided them to the Europa League final 12 months later where they were defeated by Sevilla.

With Roma set to rematch against Feyenoord in the last 32 of the Europa League, firing a man who is a proven winner to replace him with a basically novice head coach seems like a rash decision.

Daniele De Rossi at SPAL

On October 11th, 2022, Daniele De Rossi was appointed manager of SPAL in Serie B. The club had last been in the Serie A in 2020 and had lofty ambitions that the legendary midfielder could guide them back to the top-flight.

In his 126 days in charge, SPAL only managed to get three league wins, and were sitting third from bottom in Serie B when he was dismissed from his duties on Valentine’s Day of 2023.  They managed less than a point a game – 0.88ppg – during his time at the club.

He managed to attract former teammate and Serie A cult hero Radja Nainggolan to the club, but this did nothing to save him from the sack. SPAL went on to be relegated after De Rossi’s departure.

When managing SPAL, De Rossi’s preferred formation was 3-4-2-1, which in theory would suit this Roma squad. A strong back three and midfield would allow the likes of Dybala, Stephan El Shaarawy, and Serdar Azmoun to express themselves behind the striker, presumably Lukaku, Abraham, or Andrea Belotti.

Roma have had their injury woes this campaign, – Dybala has only appeared 13 times in the league so far this season, and defensive anchor Chris Smalling hasn’t played since September – but when De Rossi has a full squad to choose from, they’ll surely fly back up the league table.

De Rossi has been hired on a contract until the end of the season, meaning he’s essentially there on an interim basis. This gives the Roma board the luxury of being able to take their time and properly assess any prospective future managers.

From their point of view, it’s a win-win situation: if fan favourite De Rossi succeeds, they look like geniuses and can offer him a longer-term contract. If not, they have until the end of the season to pick the next man to bring the team forward.

Italian clubs seem as keen as any to appoint former players, but the point here is that a good player does not equal a good manager. It often just spoils good memories and leaves everyone with a sour taste in their mouth.

In hiring De Rossi, Roma are putting 18 years, 616 appearances, and countless good memories on the line. They’d better pray it pays off.