Slow death of Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham tenure the latest failure for a coach who has lost his way
Jose Mourinho will take charge of Tottenham Hotspur at Everton on Friday night with his future as Spurs manager very much in doubt. The Portuguese coach faces the prospect of steering Tottenham to their worst league finish in over a decade, as concerns over the effectiveness of his managerial style in the modern game continue to grow.
'Champions League race still wide open' - Mourinho ahead of Everton clash
Tottenham Hotspur feel like a club in stasis, waiting to make a decision on their manager’s future but aware that little good would come from pulling the trigger early.
It has been a familiar and forlorn tale for Jose Mourinho at Spurs, arriving with a big fanfare and picking up some headline wins, sidelining some big-name players, and then gradually seeming to turn against his squad. It’s been the pattern that has followed the Portuguese coach from club to club over the last decade. Just this time there haven’t been the trophies to extend his stay into a third season.
Friday’s meeting with Everton on Merseyside kicks off a run of three games in ten days that should decide Mourinho’s fate at the club. Qualification for European football next season is very much at risk for Spurs, and Everton could push Mourinho’s side down to eighth with a win on Friday. After the Toffees, they face Southampton at home next Wednesday in the Premier League, before a League Cup Final against Manchester City – the much-talked-about opportunity for Mourinho to bring some silverware to the Lilywhite half of north London.
Were Spurs to somehow pull off an upset against City at Wembley, or if they were to go on a strong run into European qualification, then perhaps Mourinho will have been judged to have done enough to keep his job for another season. But, even if Spurs do achieve one of those unlikely feats, it is still just a ‘perhaps’ about the manager’s future. That in itself illustrates how much the relationship between the coach and his squad has deteriorated in recent months. And it’s not just a negative mood that is the problem at Tottenham. Tactically the team are leaving a lot to be desired of late.
Since a win over Arsenal at the start of December, the only top-half Premier League team that Spurs have beaten are Aston Villa. And that was a Villa side without their standout player Jack Grealish. Such a disappointing record against the stronger sides flies in the face of Mourinho’s reputation as a big-game manager. And if he has lost that, then what exactly is left?
'Collective soul' needed from Tottenham players - Mourinho
Following the recent 2-2 draw with Newcastle, Mourinho responded to a question about Tottenham’s shaky defensive record compared to that of his winning sides earlier in his career with the quote “same coach, different players”. That sentiment, regardless of the intention, strikes at the heart of Mourinho’s deterioration as a manager at the top level: he is now consistently failing to improve the players he has under his command.
When Jose was at Manchester United he shunned Luke Shaw and urged the Old Trafford penny-pushers to sign Spurs left-back Danny Rose. Three years later and Rose is completely out of the picture under the same manager at Spurs, while Shaw has blossomed since Mourinho’s departure to become arguably the best left-back in the country.
That is just one example, but increasingly often it seems like players are excelling when Mourinho is in their past rather than their present.
The relentless confrontation style that Mourinho utilises is becoming increasingly flawed the less and less he wins. Players will put up with the gaslighting and public criticism if they’re picking up the biggest trophies the sport has to offer. But when the plan isn’t working, when the standard is clearly slipping, why should a squad as talented as Tottenham’s continue to buy into the Mourinho philosophy?
Jose Mourinho, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks on after the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur at Villa Park on March 21, 2021 in Birmingham, England
Image credit: Getty Images
That Tottenham will sack Mourinho is beginning to feel inevitable. However, some reports suggest that the hefty compensation of doing so could be reduced should he fail to get the team into European qualification positions this season. Perhaps Daniel Levy and the Spurs board are waiting to see the lay of the land at the end of the campaign before making such a decisive and costly move. It would be the prudent thing to do if they are indeed biding their time.
What Mourinho will do after Tottenham is another matter. The 58-year-old arrived in north London saying that he was a changed man with a new attitude. But his actions during his Tottenham tenure suggest that this leopard has not changed its spots, and perhaps the game has left him behind.
International management would be a logical next step. Having less contact time could be a huge benefit to Mourinho, denying him the opportunity to grind down his players and leave him reliant again on that ability to out-tactic opponents in one-off games – a skill that characterised the massively successful first half of his career.
But for now any talk of the Portugal national job will have to wait. There’s a League Cup final to try and win and a Premier League season to finish with Tottenham. What the future holds beyond that for Mourinho remains unclear.