The Special One. The master of the mind-game. One of football’s biggest villains. When Jose Mourinho was appointed as Tottenham Hotspur boss, it felt immediately as though it was now or never for both Tottenham and Mourinho. Spurs desperate for a trophy after being the nearly-men under Pochettino, and Jose labelled a has-been and dinosaur after his recent failure with Manchester United. But with Mourinho, comes the negative tactics, the defensive approach, and the public singling out of players who don’t perform to the required standard, a man that demands above and beyond from his players.
Over a year into his tenure as Tottenham boss, it’s hard to say whether Mourinho is doing a good job or not. When he took over in November 2019, Tottenham found themselves in 14th just a few months on from reaching the Champions League final. Jose navigated Tottenham to a 6th place finish, pipping Wolves to the Europa League spot and finishing above North London rivals Arsenal. With Bergwijn the only major addition in January and Giovani Lo Celso’s loan made permanent; Jose got to work with the squad he had, one which Pochettino had already stated needed a huge rebuild. On paper it looks a good job but in reality, with the squad he had at his disposal Tottenham finished about where was expected.
It’s the big games that count, one of the standouts from the top 6 clashes was at home against Manchester City. It was a standout for many reasons, aside from the wonder-goal scored by new boy Bergwijn, it was the clearest indicator that when executed correctly Mourinho’s defensive style and plan can produce results. Having lost to Man United and Chelsea, it seemed before the City game that when it mattered Mourinho and Spurs were falling short.
Going into this season there was plenty of optimism to be had for Spurs fans, Jose had got the players he said were needed and players who weren’t in his plans moved on.
Reguilon and Doherty provided much needed fresh faces at full-back, Hojbjerg added the bite and dark arts in midfield Spurs had lacked in recent years, Tottenham finally brought in a striker to be back up to Harry Kane in Portuguese Primeira Liga top scorer Carlos Vinicius and Gareth Bale came back to White Hart Lane on loan after so many years away.
Out of those transfers brought in, it feels like only 2 are key players for Spurs boss Mourinho. All-action left-back Reguilon has been a revelation down that side and allowed Jose to change the way the full-backs operate in his system. Upon takeover, Davies moved into a CB position in possession to create a 3, whilst Aurier, a clear liability in defence, pushed on to create a 3-4-3, with Sissoko (number 8 in this graphic) often covering behind and almost babysitting Aurier.
[Visual representation of system at the start of Mourinho’s tenure]
With the addition of Reguilon it means both full backs can now be an attacking threat, with Reguilon providing 3 assists so far this campaign. The reason both full backs are allowed to play higher and more offensively is due to the other key transfer, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. When announced I couldn’t help but think it was a signing that was needed but was someone that would be replaced within a season for a better player. Fast forward to today and Hojbjerg is adored by Spurs fans and likely the first name on Mourinho’s team sheet. A real battler in midfield, a man who gives everything every game, a clever midfielder who picks up as many tactical fouls as he gives away and someone who comes with plenty of pedigree from his Bayern days under Pep Guardiola.
The deal when you have Mourinho as manager and the style that comes with him, is that it’s very all or nothing (pardon the pun on the Amazon documentary). After navigating another 2-0 victory over City and a 2-0 win over rivals Arsenal, pundits and fans praised Mourinho for his pragmatic style and fast counter-attacking system. However, dropping points from winning positions against the likes of Newcastle, Crystal Palace and most recently Fulham, show just how infuriating it can be under Jose. A goal up in each of the three mentioned, only to concede after trying to sit back and defend a 1-0 lead, causing pundits and fans to question his style that has won Jose countless trophies.
A key point to make with Mourinho is his 7 winning principles.
Whilst nothing is wrong with Jose’s principles – he’s won everything in the game and won everywhere he has been – from a Tottenham perspective it makes for rather drab viewing. Going from intense, high-press approach of Pochettino to Jose’s football has sucked the life out of watching Tottenham. Relying on the individual brilliance of Kane and Son game after game cannot be a way in which to compete for trophies.
Tottenham find themselves 6th in the league, with a game in hand over the top 5. A win in that game in hand would only see them move above London rivals West Ham and into 5th position. With the topsy-turvy season the Premier League is having, it is foolish to think Jose and Tottenham can’t navigate a top-four finish, but challenging for the title now seems a distant memory after spending weeks top of the league at the start of the season.
I think for many Spurs fans, we knew what to expect with Jose’s appointment: we will have to stick it out and if he wins us a trophy along the way we will be happy, but he is clearly not the long-term solution. This season Jose finds himself already securing a final in the Carabao Cup, the last trophy Tottenham actually won way back in 2008 when it was the Carling Cup. It feels as though it won’t be long before Jose decides the cups are his best way to be considered successful, with good opportunities in the FA Cup and the Europa League to add some much-needed silverware to the trophy cabinet.
Only time will tell whether Mourinho will be a success for Tottenham, with the end of this season likely to show whether Jose is past it as many have labelled him or if he is still the master tactician and serial winner. For my own sanity, I seriously hope it’s the latter!