How the mighty have fallen!
Champions League runners-up Tottenham Hotspur won their second game in seven attempts since Christmas when they defeated Watford 2-1 at home on Thursday. After surprising many with their daunting march to the continental finals last year under Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham have looked in disarray since the beginning of this season and languish on the 6th position on the Premier League table.
The situation turned more grave when, Poch, their manager since 2014, was sacked. In came a man who had, at the beginning of the last decade, won the treble with Italian club Inter. His infamous victory against Barcelona in the semi-final has become footballing folklore due to the strategy he used. Inter ceded possession to Barca and yet won the game. Brilliant, yes. Artistic, no.
Jose Mourinho burst onto the football scene after his famous Champions League title with Porto in 2004. Roman Abramovich brought him to Chelsea, where he broke the monopoly of Arsenal and Manchester United in the Premier League era, bringing the league title to Stamford Bridge. After a few successful seasons, he left for the Italian sojourn.
He reached his peak in 2010, and so did his style. In the same year, Mourinho won several international accolades for the treble he won with Inter, making them the first Italian team to achieve the feat. Leaving Real Madrid and Chelsea ‘on mutual consent’ after meaningful stints with both clubs, Mourinho found himself in the hot seat at Manchester United. In the time he spent at Old Trafford, the Portuguese managed three trophies, but none worthy of earning the Mancunians’ belief. He was sacked on 18th December 2018.
He was subsequently appointed by Spurs on November 20, 2019, after Poch’s exit. Mourinho’s predecessor had taken the club from being Premier League regulars to one of the top six who were competing in Europe regularly. With no big-name signings, Poch had developed a team any management would be proud of. Mourinho, though, comes from a complete opposite breed.
He thrives on controversies and has no qualms accepting that he’s a manager who needs big signings to win. His short-term formula to success is simple, but his player pulling ability in the market has seemingly dwindled over the years. With an astute chairman in Daniel Levy, Mourinho’s hands are more tied than ever monetarily.
With Harry Kane out with injury and no big names to rely on, Mourinho’s Tottenham have looked bereft of ideas. His teams in the past, like Chelsea of 2015-16 and Man United for most of his tenure, have been in similar situations. He got some big names at Manchester United, but couldn’t reproduce the glory days the Carrington fans expected. More than the trophies, it was the defensive style of play that earned him ire.
Mourinho hasn’t fired in the last five-odd years at the European stage and hasn’t really been the trend-setter on the Premier League table. Has he lost his mojo?
The style of play is not just industrious, it tends to become mentally-straining for players as well. While most managers around the world play the attacking game with a sense of defensive stability, Mourinho’s game-plan involves the complete inverse. It takes time and a lot of practice, both physical and mental, to implement his plans right. Are clubs willing to give that long a rope to him? Man United and Chelsea did not.
There’s no question about his success – he’s one of the most successful managers modern football has witnessed. But his style seems to have hit a roadblock. He looks to have been ‘found’. His recalcitrance towards adapting is something that seems to hold him back. Will he turn it around? We’ll have to wait and watch.
When we think of football and people of vision who created great teams, odds-defying teams, flamboyant, charismatic teams, we think of the Guardiolas, the Sacchis, the Cryuffs and the Fergusons. In Mourinho, there’s no poetry, no style or eloquence. His football looks like a branch of corporate management consultancy. It runs on practice. It runs on muscle memory. Will that take him far in this age?
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