Mourinho calls and players come running to join him at Roma
ROME (AP) — Always known as a great motivator, José Mourinho is also excelling as a pitchman in his latest coaching job at Roma.
When “Mou” calls, players come running to the Italian capital.
It all started a year ago when Mourinho lured Tammy Abraham away from European champion Chelsea to join him in Rome.
At first, the young striker wasn’t all that convinced about joining a team that hadn’t won a trophy in nearly 15 years and has historically been a notch below Italy’s northern powers Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan.
Then Mourinho asked him: “Do you want to stay in rainy England or come enjoy some sun in Rome?”
That sealed the $41 million transfer and Abraham went on to score 27 goals in all competitions last season, including nine in Roma’s run to the Europa Conference League title.
Around about the same time, Mourinho convinced Henrikh Mkhitaryan — who was itching to leave Rome — to stay one more season and reunite with his former coach at Manchester United.
This season’s transfer campaign began with Mourinho luring another player from England, midfielder Nemanja Matić, who had played under him at both Chelsea and United.
Then came the biggest name of all, Paulo Dybala, who spurned interest from Champions League clubs Inter Milan and Napoli to join Roma on a free transfer.
“The coach was very clear with his ideas — which was one of the biggest reasons for my choice,” Dybala said. “Everyone knows what he represents in soccer. His calls got me excited. I’ve had the privilege to play with the greatest (players) and now I can work with one of the best coaches in soccer history.”
The arrival of Dybala, who was named Serie A’s MVP two seasons ago, has Roma fans dreaming of more trophies — like the domestic league titles that Mourinho became so accustomed to winning earlier in his career at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
That was before Mourinho’s career met some turbulence in his previous job at Tottenham, where dressing-room apathy and growing disillusionment at his tactics cost him his position at the London club after 17 months.
So far, though, Mourinho has been a perfect fit for Roma, which has a big fan base in a major European capital but which had been starved of trophies.
“I realized the moment I arrived what it meant — that they were waiting for this,” Mourinho said after raising the Conference League trophy in May.
The Conference title improved Mourinho’s record in European finals to five trophies in five matches. It also made him the first coach to lead four different clubs to European titles after winning the 2003 UEFA Cup and 2004 Champions League finals with Porto; the 2010 Champions League final with Inter Milan; and the 2017 Europa League final with Manchester United.
To commemorate his status as the only coach to win all three of the current European titles on offer, Mourinho put a tattoo of the Europa League, Champions League and Conference League trophies on his right arm.
“Now I am staying, there are no doubts,” said Mourinho, who is entering the second season of a three-year contract. “I only want to remain at Roma. We must understand what our owners, who are fantastic people, want to do next season, because this is history, but we can build a really strong project with honest professionals.”
Players like Dybala were attracted to Mourinho’s revival of Roma, which has reignited the team’s fan base.
“For us South Americans, it’s special playing in the (Stadio) Olimpico,” said Dybala, an Argentina international. “It makes you feel like you’re in Argentina or Brazil, which isn’t something easy to find in Europe. So playing for these fans will be something unique.”
Dybala’s arrival has been compared to how the transfer of Gabriel Batistuta — another Argentina standout — was considered the key move in helping Roma win its last Serie A title in 2001.
“(Roma’s moves) could change the hierarchy among Serie A’s big clubs,” said Fabio Capello, who coached the Giallorossi in 2001. “Roma has become a real contender.”
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By ANDREW DAMPF
AP Sports Writer