Jose Mourinho's lightning-quick heel turn on his players is as hopeless as it is predictable.
It is hard to know who to have the least sympathy for, Mourinho or Daniel Levy. Both of them knew what they were getting into when the pair agreed he should replace Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham, but perhaps out of desperation or laziness, they simply wouldn’t walk away and look for a more suitable deal.
For Levy, he got a big-name manager after pulling the trigger on the best coach he’d ever had, one who he hadn’t properly backed in the transfer market for at least two summer windows. As time goes by, the decision to get rid of him after an admittedly alarming slump looks even more like a dreadful mistake. But perhaps not as big a mistake as bringing in the Portuguese.
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Mourinho, for his part, was keen to walk into a new job after being let go by Manchester United as Ed Woodward had signally failed to deliver what he needed in the market. He was offered the chance to earn around £15 million a year, and this time he wouldn’t need to recuse himself to his luxury suite at the Lowry Hotel. It was an easy commute.
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But to go from Woodward’s reticence to spend to Levy’s businesslike approach to the bottom line was merely inviting the same trouble as before. Steven Bergwijn, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Matt Doherty and Joe Hart are all perfectly adequate signings, but none of them will do much more than freshen up the squad. There is no signature signing for Mourinho to make his mark on the side. There is nothing about this Spurs team, or the club, that would appeal to Mourinho were he interested in achieving something.
When he went to Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, back to Chelsea and then to Manchester United, there was glamour, silverware, or the chance of both. Spurs are an undeniably famous club, but outside of their own fans and Arsenal, they are in no way significant. That’s not a gratuitous dig, just a reflection of reality. It had been 30 years, perhaps more, since Spurs deserved their own headlines until a couple of years ago. Pochettino’s success was so remarkable, and remarked upon, because it felt like an aberration.
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There were already hints that things were heading this way under Mourinho. Danny Rose, no fool, appeared to have his misgivings. Tanguy Ndombele was clearly in line to have his happiness and dignity sacrificed in order for Mourinho to assert his authority. Dele Alli, a creative spark at his best, appears to have had a complete ectomy of his mojo. He might have a new assistant manager in Ledley King, and he had Joao Sacramento to freshen up his ideas, but instead he is merely delivering Jose-by-numbers.
If it were not for the huge stipend he is receiving for the job, it would be hard to see quite why Mourinho is bothering. After a rapid bust at Chelsea and a mirthless existence at United, he knows his old methods no longer work. Players were barely hardmen when he arrived at Chelsea for his first spell, but at Stamford Bridge, Inter and Real, he managed to get temperatures constructively roiling to a point. There was enough anger and rage aimed in the right direction for long enough to make a dent. Now, life is different.
Liverpool, Manchester City, Barcelona and Bayern Munich have all demonstrated that cojones, bronca, manning-up and all the various clichés are no longer at the heart of the modern footballer. Does that matter? Yes and no. It has advantages and disadvantages, but regardless, the sport Mourinho mastered doesn’t exist anymore.
Tactics, personalities and culture have left him behind. He has the intelligence to fight that, or to catch up, but he apparently doesn’t have the humility to do so. Given he is probably waiting for a crack at the Portugal job before retiring, perhaps he simply no longer cares enough to test himself again. He has proven himself to be the best more than once, there may be no appeal in summoning up the strength and suffering to do it all again.
Most Spurs fans, indeed most football fans, saw this coming. The aggro and the pointless chippiness at a situation it was clear he was walking into. It could have been avoided, and yet nobody seems to have bothered to make sure it didn’t.
Nobody seems to have even cursorily pretended they would try to stop it happening. Everyone is unhappy, and think of poor old Pochettino. Looking at the state his old players and club are in, it is like he was never really here.