No vibes. No trophies either. What’s to become of the once charismatic Portuguese?
A week and a half ago when The Super League was threatening to attack the very sacrosanct fabric of European football, such drastic was the discourse that when Tottenham Hotspur announced they had dismissed José Mourinho, what otherwise would have been a sensational piece of news felt nothing more than a wacky development in a story that was inevitably going to end no other way.
Even though the writing had been on the wall for some time for the 58-year-old, the timing of the discussion did raise some eyebrows. Spurs were, after all, one week away from a League Cup final against Manchester City, winning which would have given them their first trophy since 2008, when they won the same thing under Juande Ramos.
Winning a trophy is, obviously, why Mourinho was brought in in the first place. Over the past decade, getting José on board has become the football equivalent of making a deal with the Devil – he guarantees silverware, but when he goes he leaves behind a mess in the dressing room for the next guy to sort out.
That was a deal Daniel Levy, Tottenham’s chairman, was ready to make. The past decade has seen Spurs go from an exciting team to a side genuinely capable of challenging for trophies. Mauricio Pochettino, the current PSG manager, raised his reputation as well as Tottenham’s as he worked through his former side’s many, many limitations while competing with the richest clubs on the very top of European football. The Poch-Spurs marriage reached its zenith in the 2018-19 season when the two, against all odds, with next to no investment into the squad, managed to reach the UEFA Champions League final.
For all the plaudits they got, Spurs still did not win anything under the Argentine, so by the time he was let go, Levy had all but one thing in mind – get the monkey of ‘silverware’ off their backs. Hence came José, because for all his negatives he was still, for better or worse, a winner. Surely he could help the Lilywhites end their search for a trophy?
As it turned out, he couldn’t.
After arriving mid-season in November 2019, Mourinho helped stabilising the club as he took them to a 6th-place finish in a season hit by the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. After no pre-season and a very hectic start to the 2020-21 campaign that saw them play as many as four games in a week in the first few weeks, Tottenham started looking and playing like a typical José Mourinho side – one that would score a goal or two in the beginning and sit back for the remainder of the match.
And it seemed to work! Tottenham breezed past their Europa League and League Cup opponents and were sitting top of the Premier League by Matchday 12 in December. The football was not pretty to look at, but the Spurs fans knew that already when Mourinho arrived. A temporary compromise seemed manageable as long as their team seemed to be getting nearer to trophies.
But it didn’t take long for things to turn sour. After getting beaten by Liverpool on Matchday 13, Spurs went tumbling down the table and never really recovered. The defence that felt Mourinho-esque in the first half of the season soon became anything but, with the team conceding late goals and giving up halftime leads week in, week out.
Things reached an all-time low when Spurs got themselves knocked out of the UEFA Europa League in the Round of 16 by Dinamo Zagreb; a two-nil lead from the first leg was single-handedly taken care of by Mislav Oršić, whose side lost their manager to the confines of prison just before the game.
For all the talk of being a changed man, it did not take long for José to start throwing his players under the bus. Before long the players started becoming more and more irate with his damning indictments. Every match Spurs failed to win was the players’ fault and not José’s. What began with Tanguy Ndombele last season continued in this one with Dele Alli, Harry Winks, Gareth Bale, Davinson Sánchez, and even Toby Alderweireld, once his long-time transfer target.
João Sacramento, Mourinho’s new second-in-chief who joined him at Tottenham, was also not able to strike a positive chord with the players. His former assistant, Rui Faria, was often credited in bridging the communication gap that exists between José and his players – a gap widening with each passing year.
Despite everyone knowing where all of this was eventually going, the delayed League Cup final and a huge severance fee probably kept José in the job for slightly longer. For all the players he ostracised, there were the likes of Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Lucas Moura that were loyal to him till the very end. But once he divided the dressing room as sensationally as he did, it became pretty apparent that José’s neck was going to get the proverbial chop even quicker this time round. The act could no longer be delayed, not even for the League Cup final.
Of course, not all of it was his fault, as José will undoubtedly tell us soon. With no pre-season and barely any free mid-weeks, he got even lesser time than usual to train his players and inculcate a sense of togetherness and belief that they were on the right path. For all the good football they play, the collective grit of Spurs’ players has long been a matter of debate. A lack of timely player acquisitions and egresses left this team in need of a gradual overhaul even before José arrived, and since he is not known for building a team from scratch anyway, we can see why his downfall at Spurs was quicker than usual, even skipping entirely the part where his teams go through a phase of sincere success.
Maybe he could have won the League Cup if he was allowed to stay. Maybe things could have turned out differently if this was a normal season. As always, there are two sides to a coin, but we know all too well that it’s the manager who becomes the fall guy in this industry the moment things go south. We know what we’re going to get with Mourinho the moment he gets in, so we’re not surprised the moment he goes out.
Which way, José?
For my money, the only thing worrying José Mourinho right now would be regarding where his career goes from this point. After all, it’s not hard to sympathise with a person for having a hard time processing the realisation that maybe their career has peaked already and it’s all downhill now.
By José’s own admission, the present-day players don’t respond to his methods the same way players did not more than ten years ago. Compared to the good-old – often toxic – ‘tough love’, more and more players now appreciate open communication, compassion, and a sense of confidence, and while Mourinho does seem to understand what he’s lacking, his attempts at updating his style leave a lot to be desired.
As to where José goes from here is, of course, completely on him. Despite all that he lacks in modern man-management, there is absolutely no doubt of his footballing acuity. In what few stints he has made as a pundit, Mourinho comes off as a knowledgeable, refreshing presence from whom one could learn a whole lot just by listening. As he evaluates his role in modern-day football, I, for one, would absolutely love to have him make more appearances as a pundit.
As for his next football club, the rumour mill has already begun turning. Celtic are reportedly in for him and I have no doubt more clubs will surface, because Mourinho still has a lot of admirers in the game. He is held in high regard by people at Inter Milan and Real Madrid, the last two clubs he was not fired from, and two clubs that won’t surprise me if they dismissed their managers in the near future.
One thing that José does not have to worry about is his overall legacy. No matter what steps he takes from this point onwards, when all is said and done and his career is behind him, José Mourinho is, and will remain, one of the most decorated managers in the history of football.
In more ways than one, a special man.