The relationship between Tottenham Hotspur and Jose Mourinho is broken. That much was clear on an historically poor night for Spurs as they crashed out of the Europa League.
Mourinho responded to the disastrous 3-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb by trying to get ahead of the criticism, superficially taking some of the responsibility for the club’s European exit, while actually saying that the attitude of his players was the primary reason for his team’s loss.
“In the 90 minutes and first half of extra-time there was one team who decided to leave everything on the pitch – sweat, energy, blood and even tears of happiness,” Mourinho said. “On the other side, my team, I repeat ‘my team’, didn’t look like they were playing an important match.
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Football is not just about players who think they have more quality than others, the basics of football is the attitude. Before the game I told the players the risks of a bad attitude and at half-time I told my players the risk of the way we were playing. I apologise to the supporters, and I hope that the players feel the same way that I feel.
Part of what Mourinho says is true of course; the basics of football is attitude, and perhaps some Spurs players did not come into the game with the correct frame of mind.
But if we accept that on face value, then it must also be acknowledged that a major part of a manager’s job is to ensure that their players come into big games with the right attitude. If Mourinho is unable to achieve that, then he is failing in his job.
To blame the attitude, however, is to ignore that this result and this performance are the latest in a string of similar displays from Mourinho’s side this season.
In the current campaign alone there have been instances when Spurs have failed to stamp their authority on matches that they should have - but haven’t - gone on to win. It has happened against Newcastle, against West Ham (twice), against Crystal Palace, against Liverpool, against Wolves, against Fulham, against Brighton, against Arsenal, and now against Dinamo.
To adapt the famous idiom: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me ten times, shame on me.
Against Zagreb, Spurs came into the game with a two-goal advantage from the first leg and knowing that an away goal would effectively put the tie to bed (given that it would mean the hosts needed to hit four in normal time to progress).
Yet Tottenham created extremely little, mustering just four attempts in total in the opening hour, none of them particularly threatening, and only going close to finding the net when desperately trying to rescue the game in extra-time.
There are two explanations for such a flaccid approach to the game. Firstly, that it was the coach’s strategy to take minimal risks and prioritise the clean-sheet over an away goal. Or secondly, that the players did not carry out the game plan. Neither reflect well on Mourinho.
In December, following the disappointing draw with Wolves, Mourinho told reporters that the players had not followed out his instructions by defending deep when 1-0 up. And following the North London derby loss to Arsenal on Sunday, Mourinho accused some players of “hiding”. This time it is the “attitude” of the players that is to blame. There is such a clear and obvious pattern emerging that even VAR would struggle to misinterpret it.
The harsher judges of Mourinho’s recent managerial record would say he spends his first season making changes, wins trophies in his second, and then turns on the squad as things implode in the third. It would be in keeping with the ‘history of the Tottenham’ if this time he’s skipped that trophy-laden second season and gone straight to the shambolic third.
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