Jose Mourinho returns to England on Thursday on a wave of enthusiasm as upbeat Roma prepare for their third European semifinal in five seasons with fans firmly behind their charismatic manager.
Mourinho’s spell at Tottenham, the first since 2002 where he left a club without winning a trophy, left the man formerly known as The Special One’s stock at an all-time low.
A crop of attack-minded coaches had left Mourinho behind as he crept towards his 60s, but he is rebuilding his reputation in the country where his star has never waned thanks to the historic treble he won for Inter Milan nearly 12 years ago.
Defeat on Saturday at Italian champions Inter ended a 12-match unbeaten run in Serie A and fifth-placed Roma’s outside hopes of reaching the Champions League.
They were outclassed at the San Siro by a superior team who are heavily fancied to retain their league title but the 3-1 loss failed to end the positive vibes in Rome ahead of Thursday’s trip to Leicester for the first leg of their European Conference League semi.
Fans have been packing the Stadio Olimpico for recent matches with more than 65,000 attending wins over Salernitana and Bodo/Glimt and 1,600 will be in fine voice at the King Power Stadium hoping that their team end an England hoodoo.
Roma have won just one of their 22 matches played in England, at Anfield way back in 2001 with Fabio Cappello at the helm for a 2-1 aggregate Uefa Cup defeat to Liverpool, and have taken some heavy beatings from Premier League sides down the years.
Last season’s Europa League first-leg 6-2 hammering at Manchester United cost Roma their first continental final since 1984, when they were beaten by Liverpool on penalties at their own ground.
Under Mourinho, Roma look more solid than they did under predecessor Paulo Fonseca and he has managed to create a cohesion between the team and a notoriously volatile fan base which last saw their team win a trophy in 2008.
“He’s instilled in everyone the idea of never giving up, staying on it and coming together to get results,” starlet Nicolo Zaniolo said in an interview with Uefa.
“We have a coach who knows what it takes to win, I think we’ve got a chance.”
Roma supporters have continually backed their coach even in the face of some deeply poor performances and at time embarrassing results — not even a 6-1 hammering at the hands of Bodo in the Conference League groups stage led to vociferous training ground protests which have been inflicted on previous coaches.
Considered yesterday’s man in England, Mourinho’s name still carries immense weight in Italy and fans have been prepared to stick by him in the hope that he weaves the same magic which denied them the Serie A crown in 2010.
Back then Mourinho was public enemy number one in the ‘Giallorosso’ half of the Italian capital as his Inter team pipped Roma to the league on the final day of the season, a triumph that came after Lazio fans had hailed him a “true man in a fake football” in a match against Inter they had demanded their own team lose.
Against type, the 59-year-old has even created a team which plays in a more contemporary style, pressing its opposition and at times putting together some sparkling passing manoeuvres.
Stephan El Shaarawy’s recent equaliser at then-title chasers Napoli was the latest example of rapid ball movement and forward-looking play which has helped Tammy Abraham net 24 times in all competitions in his first season in Italy.
The return from injury of Zaniolo, whose hat-trick in the previous round eased Roma’s passage into the last four, will also help Mourinho in his bid to make history.