Jose Mourinho took aim at critics of Roma after a 2-0 win over Empoli on Saturday, reminding fickle fans he could have left the club in December.
The former Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester United boss has put Roma in the mix for a top-four finish and a place in next season’s Champions League, yet he feels he continues to get a raw deal.
Goals from Roger Ibanez and Tammy Abraham inside the opening six minutes set up the latest victory that moved the capital club, at least briefly, up to third place in Serie A.
Mourinho is thought to have been wanted by Portugal after the World Cup, but the 60-year-old elected to stay with Roma and hopes that will prove a wise decision.
A narrow defeat to runaway leaders Napoli last week was followed by the blow of a Coppa Italia quarter-final exit at the hands of Cremonese, the whipping boys of the Italian top flight this season.
Roma fans booed at times on Saturday as they continue to reel from that cup disappointment, with captain Lorenzo Pellegrini not spared when he came off in stoppage time, near the end of the game.
But Mourinho said: “Pellegrini has a coach who respects him and respects everything he does for the team. Out of 60,000 people, maybe 20, 30, 50 people boo.”
He said his team were playing “with our limitations”, a reference to their limited squad depth, and said beating Empoli should be regarded as “an excellent victory, because we played against a very difficult team”.
Mourinho added: “Some fans don’t understand it, but this is normal. Fans love the club, but football is not their area. Obviously there are those who understand, and there are people in the press who should have understood, because it’s their job, and who in my opinion understand but pretend not to understand that this is our reality.”
6 – AS Roma have scored twice in the opening six minutes of play in a Serie A match for the fifth time in their history:
21/05/1939 v Lazio
24/12/1949 v Bari
19/06/1955 v SPAL
16/01/2000 v Verona
04/02/2023 v Empoli
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) February 4, 2023
For the Cremonese cup game, Mourinho started without a number of his Serie A regulars, believing they needed to be protected from a heavy schedule, but the likes of Abraham, Nemanja Matic and Paulo Dybala were back in the starting XI for the Empoli game.
“I think that if this team plays against Cremonese, we win and we’re in the semi-final of the Coppa Italia,” Mourinho said. “But then we wouldn’t have won today. This is our reality. We always do our best, we work hard.
“Today, before the game, I told the players that we have to go onto the pitch with a backpack full of the frustration and sadness of the last game, but we can’t expect anyone to help. Just us.
“For the first time I went on the pitch with them in the warm-up and our feeling was exactly this: it’s just us. The truth is that we do our best. And as I always say, when you give your best, you can’t give more. We always give our best.
“I think day after day. I could have left in December, and I didn’t leave, I stayed here. And this is my life. Sometimes it seems like we’re in trouble, in the relegation zone, but we’re there, we’re at the top, with all those teams that are very strong. But that’s okay.”
It remains to be seen whether Mourinho will be in charge next season, and whether Nicolo Zaniolo and Chris Smalling will stay at Roma.
Attacking midfielder Zaniolo saw a January move fail to come off, after he appeared to push for a transfer before hesitating when Bournemouth looked to be his likely destination.
Former Manchester United and England centre-back Smalling, who started against Empoli, is nearing the end of his contract and reports have claimed Inter and Juventus are keen on him.
Asked what Zaniolo had to do to be welcomed back into the squad, and how Smalling might be persuaded to stay with Roma, Mourinho said: “Zaniolo must do absolutely nothing, it is a problem of the club and he must solve it with the club, not with me. For Smalling, I can do nothing to convince him.”