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AC Milan

Jose Mourinho, Paulo Dyabala, Georginio Wijnaldum: Something remarkable is brewing at Roma ahead of new season

There are certain cities in the world where you can just feel the football emanating out; cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul and Glasgow all spring instantly to mind.

And Rome is definitely one of them.

Despite being a city that has just five league titles between the two major clubs (Turin has 43, Milan 38 and even Genoa 10) there is a passion that has few equals in the world.

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And so far this summer it feels as if there is something special being brewed in the red and gold half of Rome as Jose Mourinho, backed by Tiago Pinto and the Roma owners, plots his greatest second season act yet.

The Portuguese’s move to Roma last summer came out of nowhere and truly stunned the footballing world. After burning out (rather dramatically) at both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur there were many who speculated this might have been the end for Mourinho. He was unlikely to get another job in England given his needling against Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal and the same prickling appeared to preclude him from a job at Juventus or AC Milan. Bayern Munich had publicly moved to distance themselves from him and, whilst it appeared a possible option, PSG put their faith in the since-fired Mauricio Pochettino.

Then in came Roma. Trying to recover from the disastrous Monchi-led era on the pitch whilst also moving on from James Pallotta’s eventful regime off it, Pinto, one of the rising stars of the world of football front offices, worked his magic to convince Mourinho of the Roma project. Mourinho in turn worked his magic, luring Tammy Abraham from Chelsea amongst others.

What followed was a truly remarkable first season, even by Mourinho’s standards. There were lowlights (most noticeably the 6-1 hammering by Bodo/Glimt and a 3-0 reverse at home against Inter Milan) but there were also some stunning highlights, the 3-0 win in the derby over Lazio that had the Stadio Olimpico rocking and of course, the crowning glory of the season as they lifted the Europa Conference League. Not only were they the first winners of the tournament, it was also the club’s first ever European trophy. Perhaps not as illustrious as others, but certainly partially making up for the pain of finals past.

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If that was Pinto and Mourinho’s warm-up, just to get you interested, now they are really starting to flex their muscles. Paulo Dybala, one of the marquee free agents of the summer, arrived in Rome to much fanfare after a move to Inter broke down.

The reaction was unlike anything else. Players like Dybala typically don’t sign for Roma, either they are not interested in the sporting project or poor financial management leaves the club unable to compete. Many have compared it to the legendary summer of 2000 when Roma paid €36.2m (the record for a player over 30 that was only broken in 2017) for Gabriel Batistuta. The goals of the Argentine propelled Roma to the Serie A title, their most recent league victory.

Whilst not the same player by any means, Dybala’s arrival has had a similar impact. Just look at the turnout and reaction for his presentation. I told you, some cities are just built differently when it comes to football.

On the field Dybala will form part of a drool-worthy attacking unit that contains Abraham, who last season had the second-most goals for a player’s first year in Serie A, Nicolo Zaniolo and heartbeat of the side Lorenzo Pellegrini. At the time of writing the club is also working on a deal to bring in Andrea Belotti to act as a back-up for Abraham.

Georginio Wijnaldum is here too, looking to rediscover his Liverpool form after a torrid time at PSG. He’ll play next to one of Bryan Cristante, Pellegrini or another new arrival, Nemanja Matic. The back three offers strong protection for Rui Patricio and Euro 2020 star Leonardo Spinazzola is back from his horror injury.

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Plus, and you won’t believe it, Mourinho is using the young players! Okay, so it’s not as if he’s going all out, but Riccardo Calafiori, Edoardo Bove, Nicola Zalewski and Felix Afena-Gyan should all see playing time this season.

Nicola Zalewski in azione durante Sampdoria-Roma – Serie A 2021-22

Image credit: Getty Images

It still all seems like a long shot. AC Milan have been quiet but remain the team to beat whilst Inter have brought back Romelu Lukaku, and Juventus, whilst still fairly uninspiring, have at least strengthened their backline with the addition of Gleison Bremer. Can Roma beat out all three of these giants?

Serie A is in a very weird place right now. The big clubs are as weak as they ever have been, but some of the middling clubs, whilst not exactly thrilling, can make life very difficult for their illustrious peers. Whilst it makes for grim reading, particularly in the Champions League, it does make the league interesting to watch.

HAIFA, ISRAEL – JULY 30: AS Roma players Paulo Dybala and Tammy Abraham warm-up prior the pre-season friendly match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and AS Roma at Sammy Ofer Stadium on July 30, 2022 in Haifa, Israel. (Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty I

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Image credit: Getty Images

And given how for so much of the previous decade Serie A was about as forgone a conclusion as any league, this openness is a breath of fresh air. Plus it gives a team like Roma a chance. In a world where the Premier League (Manchester City or Liverpool), Ligue 1 (PSG), La Liga (Real Madrid or Barcelona), Bundesliga (Bayern Munich) all seem fairly easy to predict (occasional Lille, Atletico Madrid or Leicester City aside) Serie A might be in a position to market itself as the most open of the big leagues. If a team like Roma can either challenge for, or win, the Scudetto then why couldn’t Napoli, Fiorentina or Lazio with the proper investment?

Last season the love affair between Abraham and the Roma fans captured the hearts of a lot of fans and pundits (including this one) but this year it feels as if it could be taken to an entirely new level.

This is a city and set of supporters that are desperate for more to cheer about after so many years in the miserable wilderness of mediocrity. Can Mourinho and his team build on what they achieved last season? Or will it flame out as has been the way so often for him? It’s impossible to know but it will all begin this Sunday evening and you can feel the excitement. Make sure you don’t miss it.

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