Jose Mourinho’s struggles at Tottenham were summed up by the brilliance and recklessness of Erik Lamela as they lost 2-1 to Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday night.
For much of the match it appeared that Mourinho had perfected another semi-spiteful mugging. He amusingly goaded Arsenal over their league position in the run-up, and has earned the right to do so. Along with Alex Ferguson about 16 years ago, he administered a sustained bodying to the club, from which Arsenal have never recovered. Mikel Arteta has been unable to get the side out of their rut, as he struggles to shake off the mediocrity that first Arsene Wenger and then Unai Emery bequeathed him. With league titles in four countries, four European titles with three clubs, and an era when he redefined how to play the game, Mourinho can take the pee out of anyone.
However, while he has earned that arrogance, the lack of evolution since he left Real Madrid in 2013 has meant that some of that superiority has transformed into hubris. There was a second-place finish with Manchester United and a Europa League, but his gratuitous agita and listlessness was clearly counter-productive. He has not started to lash out at Spurs yet, but he is probably happy to have an easy commute so can't be bothered to engineer a sacking yet. Given he checked into a hotel in Manchester only to check out once his time was up, it is fair to assume that he regarded Old Trafford with less affection than he did when he visited as Porto, Chelsea and then Real Madrid boss. The job he coveted was Alex Ferguson’s one, not the one offered by Ed Woodward. His lashing out at Woodward's incompetence makes more sense when you know he got a huge payoff to leave.
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We know that Mourinho has boxes he wants to tick off his resume. United was one, Real another. Spurs isn't. The only thing left that is the Portugal job, one that appears to be settled at least until Euro 2021 is completed. Should that become available, then you shouldn’t be surprised if he starts hitting out at Daniel Levy for any perceived parsimony, or accusing Erik Lamela of not knowing how to wash dishes properly, or some ridiculous guff to go on about.
Lamela’s performance is the kind of thing that Mourinho now has to rely upon given he shows such little aggression with the mentality of his teams these days. United were beset by ennui and indifference when he was in charge, perhaps reflecting the lack of vim he has shown ever since he departed Real. He drove Pep Guardiola all the way to a sabbatical in his pursuit of knocking Barcelona off their perch. It clearly took something out of him to have to deal with Mourinho’s insistent, unpleasant and brilliant goading, so it would make sense that it took something out of the Portuguese, too.
Maintaining that intensity is simply not possible for anyone, let alone managers under the pressure and scrutiny we see from the press. It could well follow that Mourinho is happy to take life a little easier, less special and more comfortable. The players who once fed off his rage will now clock that he simply isn’t as fussed, and more importantly that he isn’t worth following into hell because he can no longer guarantee them trophies. Sergio Ramos would obviously put up with incredible aggro if it meant he got to flick the Vs at Gerard Pique. Harry Kane probably doesn’t care about doing the same to Kieran Tierney.
mourinho valdés final champions league bernabeu inter milan bayern munich
Image credit: Eurosport
Lamela pulled off one moment of brilliance, just as Mourinho still shows flashes of his tactical genius now and then, or throws out the odd line about one of his rivals. It looked as if it might be enough to beat Arsenal, but ultimately it was the same old story for Spurs. Defensive frailty - now something that Mourinho appears unable to resolve despite it once being anathema to him as an emerging manager - allowed Arsenal through, and then there was a witless penalty in the second half from Davinson Sanchez.
With Spurs in need of a win, Lamela then flashed his arm out into Tierney’s mush. It was a harsh yellow, but a silly one. Back in the day, Mourinho would have loved some violence, but when administered by Ricardo Carvalho there was a decent chance it would go unpunished. This was fun jousting, of course, but it was out in the open. If you’re going to knife someone, Mourinho wants it done from behind.
Mourinho used to be a cynical, brutal manager, capable of inspiring loyalty, self-improvement and discipline from any team he was in charge of. It worked again, and again, and again, and again. And then it stopped. Spurs’ players might not be rebelling against him, but it isn’t only fans who will be losing their patience.
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