Jose Mourinho has parted company with Roma and it just so happens to be in his third season with the club as the infamous ‘third-season syndrome’ has appeared to kick in.
The Giallorossi have endured an inconsistent 2023-24 campaign as they currently sit ninth in Serie A, having only won one of their last six league matches.
We’ve taken a closer look at the manager’s supposed third-season curse and whether it stacks up in reality. Here’s how each of Mourinho’s clubs have fared during his third season at the helm.
“My third season in Porto? I didn’t have a third season. In Inter, I didn’t have a third season. My third season at Chelsea the first time, I won the FA Cup and the Carling Cup, and I played the Champions League semi-finals,” Mourinho responded in combative fashion when asked about ‘third-season syndrome’ for the first time back in 2015.
It’s a fair point. Mourinho’s first ‘third season’ really wasn’t that bad at all. Chelsea won both domestic cups, beating Arsenal in the League Cup final and Manchester United in the FA Cup final.
But falling short in the final four in Europe once again was disappointing for a side that were undoubtedly among the major contenders.
And their title retention campaign was somewhat underwhelming, though they finished runners-up to an exceptional Manchester United side and ended with a respectable 83-point tally.
The 2006-07 campaign isn’t one of the greatest in Chelsea’s recent history but it was by no means a disaster. Even when he was sacked early in the following season amid reports of dressing room friction, it was far from a full-on implosion. That was all to come…
Real Madrid (2012-13)
“The third season in Real Madrid I won the Super Cup, lost the cup final, and I went to the Champions League semi-finals,” Mourinho continued in that memorable 2015 press conference.
“These are my third seasons. So click Google instead of asking stupid questions. You spoke about the third season, and I’m telling you the question is stupid. I know the point is that the question is stupid.”
The case for Madrid’s 2012-13 campaign not being that bad is less convincing. The most successful club in football history don’t judge themselves on lifting Super Cups.
And nor do they pride themselves on finishing runners-up in the Copa del Rey. Not least when, in the final, Atletico enjoyed their first Madrid derby victory since 1999 and went into it on the back of 10 successive defeats to their city rivals.
Mourinho was sent off and serenaded with chants of “Mourinho, stay!” by the Atleti fans. Ouch.
Mourinho did take Madrid forward in Europe. Gone were the days of Round of 16 defeats to Lyon. But three straight Champions League semi-final eliminations looked less impressive when they went on to win it in five of the following nine years.
He also conveniently didn’t mention their La Liga campaign. Madrid registered an incredible 100-point tally in 2011-12, knocking Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona off their perch, but they went down a couple of gears and ended up 15 points behind their historic rivals in 2012-13.
That’s not to mention the many suggestions of a toxic dressing room that had completely broken down, as chronicled by Diego Torres’ remarkably salacious book ‘The Secret World Of Jose Mourinho‘.
“This is the worst season of my life. A Super Cup, a semi-final, a runner-up. For many coaches that would be a good year. For me it is the worst,” Mourinho said after taking charge of his final game.
Chelsea were only about a month into their shambolic 2015-16 campaign when Mourinho launched his staunch rebuke of his ‘third-season syndrome’, as quoted above. He might’ve had a point at the time but the worst was yet to come.
Mourinho had quietened his doubters by leading the Blues to the Premier League title in 2014-15, his third across his two stints. They only lost three matches all season, were miles clear of the competition, and were the favourites to retain their title the following year.
What happened next was a sharp and sudden decline that couldn’t have been foreseen. Mourinho was sacked in mid-December after a defeat to eventual surprise champions Leicester City.
Chelsea had lost nine and won just four of their 16 Premier League games at that point and sat – unthinkably – just above the relegation zone.
“Chelsea, in a bad year, should be top six, still there or thereabouts,” club legend Frank Lampard, then at New York City, said at the time.
“Where they are at the moment is impossible. I don’t know whether [Mourinho]’s lost them but something has to change right now, whether it’s the attitude or the performance.”
Roman Abramovich unsurprisingly sacked Mourinho a second time and interim successor Guus Hiddink led Chelsea to a 10th-place finish.
Manchester United (2018-19)
Mourinho’s first season at Manchester United ended with three pieces of silverware, as he was so keen to remind us. The Community Shield definitely counts, okay?
Year two was trophyless but the Red Devils made strides forward, finishing 2nd with a respectable 81-point tally that remains the club’s best since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
Come the summer of 2018, there was hope that the Portuguese coach could take the club another step forward to challenge Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City for the title.
But things didn’t quite work out that way. A despondent Mourinho set the tone for the year by voicing public disquiet over the club’s lack of transfer activity.
He stressed the need for more additions during pre-season but the club failed to make any further signings after Fred, Diogo Dalot and Lee Grant arrived in early July.
United weren’t quite as diabolical as Chelsea were in 2015-16, but the script felt familiar when Mourinho was finally handed his P45 shortly before Christmas. A 3-1 defeat to league leaders Liverpool left United sitting sixth, 19 points off Jurgen Klopp’s Reds and 11 points from the top four.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was brought in to steady the ship, and while the Norwegian masterminded that incredible comeback victory over PSG, United’s 2018-19 season was ultimately one to forget.
They failed to lift any silverware and ended up finishing sixth, where Mourinho had left them.
The Portuguese boss struggled to find much consistency during his third season with Roma and following a poor run of late, the club were left with little choice but to part company.
Mourinho leaves the club in ninth place, having only won one of his final six matches in charge.
“We thank Jose on behalf of all of us at AS Roma for the passion and commitment he has shown since his arrival in the Giallorossi,” a club statement read upon his departure.
“We will always have great memories of his stewardship, but we believe that, in the best interests of the Club, immediate change is necessary.
“We wish José and his collaborators the best for the future.”