Jose Mourinho took aim at Roma critics after a 2-0 win over Empoli on Saturday, reminding fickle fans that he could have left the club in December.
The former boss of Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester United has put Roma in the mix for a top four finish and a place in next season’s Champions League, but he feels he is still getting a raw deal.
Goals from Roger Ibanez and Tammy Abraham within the first six minutes secured the final victory that lifted the capital club, at least briefly, to third in Serie A.
Mourinho would have been wanted by Portugal after the World Cup, but the 60-year-old chose to stay with Roma and hopes that will prove to be a wise decision.
A narrow defeat to runaway leader Napoli last week was followed by the blow of a Coppa Italia quarter-final by Cremonese, the rousing lads of Italy’s top flight this season.
Roma fans were sometimes booed on Saturday as they continued to reel from that Cup disappointment, with captain Lorenzo Pellegrini not spared when he went off in stoppage time towards the end of the match.
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 played “with our limitations”, a reference to their limited team depth, saying beating Empoli should be considered “an excellent win, because we played against a very difficult team”.
Mourinho added: “Some fans don’t understand, but this is normal. Fans love the club, but football is not their field. Of course there are people who understand, and there are people in the press who should have understood , because it’s their job, and who I think understand but pretend not to understand that this is our reality.”
For the Cremonese Cup tie, Mourinho started without some of his Serie A regulars, believing they needed to be protected from a tough schedule, but the likes of Abraham, Nemanja Matic and Paulo Dybala were back in the starting eleven for the Empoli fixture .
“I think if this team plays against Cremonese, we will win and we will be in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia,” said Mourinho. “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 on the field with a backpack full of frustration and sadness from the last game, but we can’t expect anyone to help. Only us.”
“For the first time I went on the field with them during the warm-up and our feeling was exactly this: it’s just us. The truth is that we are doing our best. And as I always say, if you try your best, you can you can’t give more We always do 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 standing there we’re at the top, with all those teams that are very strong, but it doesn’t matter.”
It remains to be seen whether Mourinho will be at the helm next season and whether Nicolo Zaniolo and Chris Smalling will stay at Roma.
Attacking midfielder Zaniolo saw a move from January fail, after appearing to press for a transfer before hesitating as Bournemouth appeared 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 say Inter and Juventus are keen on him.
Asked what Zaniolo needed to do to be welcomed back into the squad and how Smalling could be persuaded to stay at Roma, Mourinho said: “Zaniolo should do absolutely nothing, it’s a problem for the club and he needs to get it together “solve it with the club. Not with me. There’s nothing I can do to convince Smalling.”