While their relationship ended abruptly on Monday with the news of his firing, Tottenham’s alliance with Jose Mourinho was a transactional relationship from day one.
The spurs are run daily by Chairman Daniel Levy, one of the smartest and sharpest administrators in football. Mourinho may have fooled some by reviving his Instagram account and generally using gentler rhetoric in press conferences, but he remains the same combative and confrontational figure he always was.
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These two men have been on a collision course from the moment they shook hands with Mourinho’s November 2019 reveal, though that doesn’t mean it didn’t make sense. Spurs needed a manager with the stature and personality to outrun Mauricio Pochettino’s shadow. Someone who has proven to have done the only thing Pochettino couldn’t do in his five and a half years: to win trophies. For his part, Mourinho needed a club already in close proximity to major honors to rebuild his reputation, particularly to deny the accusation that the game’s elite had left him behind as the curious champion of a bygone era.
Levy is frugal in his approach, a method reinforced by paying a £ 1 billion stadium. He prefers to buy young players who either develop or have resale value. Mourinho’s management recklessly requires high expenditures on finished products. His authority was established in the clinical assembly of talented individuals whom he expects to have the mental strength to focus solely on the relentless pursuit of fame.
Tottenham’s stunning stadium is proof that Levy wants the best too, and sources claim he has admired Mourinho from afar for years, but he is – and always will be – Mourinho’s philosophical opposite. The question has always been whether this unlikely marriage could bring short-term success before the inevitable and costly divorce.
In the middle was a squad that was possibly irreversibly shaped after Pochettino’s image and, through a strong collective bond with his manager, became more than the sum of its parts. Mourinho tried to step up her resolve, as evidenced by the Amazon documentary, for which the 58-year-old became a bonafide star. It was literally the box office material that fans always describe it as – everywhere but on the pitch.
According to Pochettino’s more inclusive and empathetic style, perhaps “hard love” was what this group needed to take the final step towards cutlery. Before Mourinho, Spurs was runner-up in the Premier League title race and runner-up in the Champions League, but consistently throughout. It was widely believed that they exceeded expectations and played a brand of football that many in the game envied.
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Mourinho claimed his 11-month hiatus from management after being sacked by Manchester United in December 2018 changed him, gaining different perspectives while working in the media and realizing the game. However, it wasn’t long before Mourinho began publicly criticizing players who made individual mistakes. Defensive mistakes undermined performance and a long injury list likely ended the 2019-20 season in disappointment.
Mourinho summed up his mood perfectly after losing the first leg of the Champions League in the round of 16 against RB Leipzig in February 2020.
“If I could move to July 1st right away, I would,” he said.
The pandemic presented an unexpected chance to reset. Spurs have been at the forefront of football’s bold attempt to support the NHS and local institutions with Mourinho, who is consistently personal. Arguably no club benefited from the break in recovering injured players, and strong results followed – only Manchester City and Manchester United scored more points (both 21) than Tottenhams 18 when the project restarted – to finish in sixth qualify for the Europa League.
A positive summer followed, in which Mourinho “Mr. Levy” – always the nickname “Mister” – also publicly congratulated at the end of a transfer window in which Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Sergio Reguilon, Matt Doherty, Joe Rodon and Joe Hart arrived on loans from Carlos Vinicius and Gareth Bale. Spurs topped the table with a 2-0 win over Manchester City in November – almost a year after Mourinho took office – as Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son took their deadly partnership to a new level.
Still, they surpassed their expected goals and submission numbers, suggesting this couldn’t last, and in any case, tension bubbled beneath the surface.
Bale had time to update himself after freezing at Real Madrid. Despite a consistently high level of training, the Welshman remained a substitute for games against City, Chelsea and Arsenal within two weeks. Already voicing concerns about the goals scored, Mourinho insisted the players fail to act on his instructions by falling back into a defensive mindset instead of staying on their forefoot.
Julien Laurens believes the entire Tottenham locker room turned on Jose Mourinho, which led to his sacking.
Sources have described this narrative offered by Mourinho as a major point of contention. There was also frustration with Mourinho’s training sessions, which contrasted the volume of offensive work done under Pochettino with the emphasis on defense and the team form favored by his successor.
The club’s younger players also felt that getting to the first team with Mourinho was much more difficult. Pochettino had shown great interest in setting up the academy, and although members of the development team often trained with the seniors, Mourinho rarely offered more than one word or another of encouragement.
On the pitch, Tottenham’s style of football became regressive. A team built on principles of attack appeared to be embroiled in an existential struggle with itself and fought against the instinct to move forward based on the conservative principles of its manager. They quickly became a site that apparently benefited from the continued absence of followers. There was no one in the ground providing the angry soundtrack while the team at home wasn’t ambitious enough. After all, Spurs’ motto is “to dare is to be done”, not “to dare to be defended”.
Kane’s future has also been the subject of increasing speculation. Sources have told ESPN that while the English captain would love nothing more than to win silver with Spurs, his ambition to win the game’s biggest prizes could lead him to seek a move.
Spurs had won one of their last six games prior to Monday’s announcement, but the timing of Mourinho’s departure comes as a surprise given that it comes six days before an EFL Cup final against Manchester City. The man who was used to win the trophies was fired the week he was able to deliver one. Why not give the man who has won 12 of 15 major finals across Europe in his career the chance to claim another win over Pep Guardiola?
ESPN reported on Feb. 19 that Levy wanted to wait until the end of the season before deciding on Mourinho’s fate, taking into account the issues in the squad, but mainly so that he knew which European competition Spurs was playing in. With the announcement of Tottenham’s involvement in the European Super League, maybe he has his answer. This would certainly make the payout, which is valued at around £ 20million, according to sources, far more palatable for a club that took out a Bank of England loan last year to cover its running costs during the coronavirus pandemic .
Mourinho was sacked less than 12 hours after the Super League was confirmed in a statement from the 12 clubs involved. It is tempting to say that he served his purpose and maintained the club’s broader profile as he sought a seat at Europe’s new top table.
Spurs deny that Mourinho’s departure had anything to do with the Super League and that it was actually just a results-based decision. That brings us back to the starting point that Mourinho’s appointment was supposed to be about cutlery. The Amazon documentary was aptly titled “All or Nothing”. In the end it was nothing and that is a huge disappointment for everyone involved.