Does Mourinho ‘third season syndrome’ exist?
After successive European finals, Jose Mourinho and Roma currently sit 13th in Serie A. They have picked up just eight points from their opening seven games, with more losses than wins.
In his first season in charge at the club, Jose Mourinho led Roma to a finished sixth – seven points behind Juventus and Champions League qualification. As the Portuguese manager does best, he also guided the club to some silverware, as they won the inaugural Europa Conference League, beating Feyenoord in the final.
He oversaw the addition of seven new players on a permanent basis, with the most notable being Tammy Abraham. Abraham still stands as the club’s second most expensive signing, behind Patrik Schick.
At the end of his second season, I Giallorossi finished sixth again, with their point tally mirroring that of the season before. They finished one point ahead of Juventus, who had admittedly struggled amidst investigations into the club and points deductions.
While the club remained somewhat static in the league, they reached the Europa League final, and narrowly missed out on more silverware. Competition specialists Sevilla held them to a 1-1 draw, and the Spanish side emerged victorious on penalties.
Fast forward to the present, and history appears to be repeating itself for Mourinho. The current season marks his third at the club, which has typically been the hallmark of his downfall at his previous clubs.
Mourinho himself has often been defensive when questioned about his ‘third season syndrome’. He has hit back at reporters in the past, telling them to “click google” before making “stupid questions.”
However, since this interview in 2015 he has suffered issues again in his third season at a number of clubs. In particular, Chelsea (who he was managing at the time of the interview), and Manchester United. Now, it looks to be happening again.
As such, I decided to take a look into The Special One’s third seasons, and the extent to which these have been a problem for him.
Chelsea (Spell No.1)
Mourinho arrived in SW6 fresh off the back of winning the Champions League and league title with Porto. New owner Roman Abramovich was keen to progress the club forward, and replaced Claudio Ranieri with the Portuguese manager.
In his first season, he guided Chelsea to their first Premier League title, as well as winning the League Cup. He had overseen an historic transfer window for the time; players such as Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho and Petr Cech were signed to bolster the squad, alongside a young Arjen Robben was also acquired.
The year later, his feat of winning the league had been repeated, adding to their Community Shield success before the season began.
However, in his third season, tensions between himself and Abramovich had reached an all-time high. The signing of Andriy Shevchenko, a Ballon d’Or winning striker, proved to ignite the fallout.
The Ukrainian striker had flattered to deceive in his first season, which Mourinho was openly critical of in the media. Abramovich, on the side of the player, did not take too kindly to this.
On the pitch, improvement was needed heading into the Christmas. Chelsea found themselves seven points adrift of Manchester United, and Mourinho wanted a striker to help Drogba. He also wanted a new defender to cover for an injured John Terry. However, no signings were made.
In Robert Beasley’s Jose Mourinho: Up Close and Personal, he writes that a petty dispute over who was responsible for the club’s success added to the friction.
Mourinho believed his coaching and motivational skills were the primary reason. In contrast, Abramovich felt that it was his generosity and power in the transfer market that was key.Robert Beasley
He further adds that Abramovich not giving into Mourinho’s demands may have been a way of proving that he couldn’t survive without his cash.
It was not until September in the 2007/08 season that he left the club. After a number of disputes, he left by ‘mutual consent’, with the best interests of the club in mind.
All in all, Mourinho’s time at Madrid was mostly successful on the pitch. In three seasons, he won La Liga and the Copa del Rey, as well as the Supercopa de España. It was more so his off the pitch relationships that soured his stint at the club, leading to his departure.
He clashed with the media many times, as well as with Iker Casillas and Angel di Maria. It has also been said he had a fraught relationship with Sergio Ramos.
In 2014, Cristiano Ronaldo stated that “there was a bad atmosphere” at the club under Mourinho. His relationship with the manager was supposedly another issue. Mourinho had said that “maybe [he] thinks that he knows everything and that the coach cannot improve him anymore.”
There were also further incidents away from team performances. He poked Barcelona’s assistant coach in the eye during a brawl, and frequently suggested that the Catalan club received preferential treatment from UEFA.
After losing the cup final to Atletico Madrid, he named the 2012/13 season as the worst of his career. Days later, Florentino Perez announced he would be leaving by mutual agreement, despite signing a new four-year deal prior to this.
Chelsea (Spell No.2)
A year after returning to Chelsea (one of his “two great passions“), Mourinho won the Premier League once again in 2014/15. This was after finishing third in 2013/14, which he claimed to be a “transitional season.”
However, his following season (and unsurprisingly his third) did not go to plan. Chelsea’s start to the season was far from satisfactory, claiming just 11 points from their opening 12 games.
Come December 2015, with nine losses in 16 league games, he left the club once again by mutual consent.
Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas were at the centre of the controversy that surrounded Mourinho’s second departure. There were multiple reports of player-led pressure inviting his dismissal. One such report was that an unnamed player would “rather lose than win” for the manager.
His dispute with team doctor Eva Carneiro was also thought to be a factor, which carried on into his spell at United.
Once again, tense relations and off the pitch issues led to his downfall. This time, however, results also contributed.
Ahead of the 2016/17, Mourinho took charge at Old Trafford. Despite the league success of his beloved Chelsea that season, United too collected some silverware. They managed to win the Community Shield, League Cup and Europa League. These were United’s last trophies won until their League Cup success last season.
The 2017/18 season marked the beginning of the Pep Guardiola era. United’s neighbours won the league for the first time since 2014, and did so as Centurions. Mourinho’s side finished second that season, albeit 19 points behind City.
He later claimed this second place finish was one of the best achievements of his career, as “people don’t know what is going on behind the scenes.”
United’s off pitch issues are of no secret to many. The ownership of the Glazers has created many problems throughout the club, with it becoming a difficult environment for managers to operate in.
Mourinho was critical of the club’s transfer dealings ahead of the season, particularly in their failure to recruit Ivan Perisic. This could be part of what he was referring to.
Despite this, results in the following season seemed to have landed him in an untenable position. With just seven wins in 17 league games, he was sacked in December 2018.
Overall, it is clear to see a theme among Mourinho’s spells that reach the third season. There is typically a breakdown in relationships, either between owners or players.
As such, these often spill onto the pitch, impacting performances in a negative manner. There also seems to be a common theme with the right profiles not being recruited for him, making him unable to progress teams in a way he sees fit.
So, it could be argued that he suffers mostly on the human side of his roles, with his personality not aligning with the vision of those he works under.
It could also be argued that clubs just do not see him as suitable to lead a dynasty. He is a proven short-term winner, with high standards that do not lend themselves well to projects to be built for the long-run. Maybe he himself views this to be the case as well.
Many would argue this is even more unlikely to happen at this stage of his career now. He is often criticised for not moving with the times, and sticking to his traditional philosophies which are not well suited to the modern game.
Despite history telling us it is unlikely, will he turn things around at Roma?