Tottenham have appointed Jose Mourinho this week to kickstart their quest for another top four finish. Can Jose pull it off?
No, it’s the wrong fit for Mourinho and Spurs – Will Ford
Spurs boss Mourinho (wow, that’s going to take some getting used to) takes over in north London with his new side sitting 14th in the table, 11 points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, the Premier League champions. That’s a big margin even before you consider the might of Pep Guardiola’s team and the fluorishing brilliance of Leicester and Chelsea, the other teams they’re chasing for that coveted Champions League spot.
The Portuguese himself claimed the title race was over following Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City, after the Reds opened up an eight-point gap at the top of the Premier League, so presumably he thinks an 11-point gap is similarly insurmountable?
Old Mourinho, Chelsea-first-spell Mourinho, could do it – but that’s no longer who he is. And he may have been smiling and joking around in his first press conference for Spurs, showing a glimmer of his former self and claiming he won’t repeat past mistakes, but he’s not fooling me. A couple of losses on the trot, an absence of effort from Christian Eriksen, a journalist lacking “respect” by questioning his title-winning capability, then we’ll see the new Mourinho, the Manchester United Mourinho that publicly blames his players, so convinced of his own brilliance he’s blinkered to any view other than his own.
The us-against-them mentality he instilled at Chelsea and Inter Milan worked brilliantly. But they were both clubs that at the time were crying out for strong direction and a new ethos, which isn’t the case at Tottenham, where the open, loving atmosphere Pochettino had worked so hard to create took them to a Champions League final. And while the trophy cabinet is bare and Mourinho could be the man to fill it in future seasons, the polarity of his methods will take time to get used to, time that will see them drop further behind fourth place this term, not make ground towards it.
It remains to be seen how much money Mourinho will be handed by Daniel Levy to spend in January – recent history suggests not a lot, if any at all. And despite Mourinho insisting that he doesn’t need to make January signings and that “the best gift are the players who are here”, he does need new recruits, because they won’t get to fourth with Serge Aurier at right-back.
The first inevitable transfer link was made with Nemanja Matic, presumably to form the Mourinho-heralded double-pivot in central midfield with another Jose favourite, Eric Dier. That, along with talk of a move for 38-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic – who would never play ahead of Harry Kane anyway – has got to be a worrying sign for Spurs fans, whose best hope of Champions League football next season is a third placed finish in their current Champions League group and the Europa League title. But hey, it’s a trophy you wanted, right?
Yes. It’s hardly the toughest task Jose has faced – Ian Watson
It’s a tall order. But Mourinho took this Manchester United team to second place, so anything’s possible…
Daniel Levy explained in his statement that Tottenham need to ‘re-energise and deliver a positive season for our supporters’ and though a domestic trophy is desirable, the measuring stick will always be the league table and whether Spurs are involved again next season in the Champions League.
Mourinho was greeted with an 11-point deficit on the top four when he arrived and there is no question that he needs to start chipping away at that immediately. But the new manager, this new manager, can ‘re-energise’ this squad, one which is still brimming with talent but has lost its way. A new cycle for Spurs will have to begin soon, but this one is not completely finished yet.
The reassuring thing for Mourinho is that there is another gear or two (three in some cases) for every player in his squad to go up this season. Spurs’ players have looked jaded – more mentally than physically – this season amid the uncertainty surrounding their manager. Now that excuse has been removed and Mourinho has bounced into Spurs Lodge to charm the pants off everyone, I suspect you will witness a sudden and dramatic improvement in mentality and work rate from these players.
Mourinho also spoke of ‘small details’ he can change, though he was being polite. Pochettino tried all sorts to provoke his players into some consistency, with none of the sh*t he was chucking sticking to the Spurs wall. All Mourinho has to do in the short term is go back to basics.
You will probably find that Mourinho’s back four will sit deeper and benefit from more robust protection than Pochettino’s, while in attack, Christian Eriksen will be given the chance he perhaps doesn’t deserve to finish his Spurs career on a high in the No.10 role. Dele Alli too has a clean slate and coming from wider, we can expect a lot more from him very quickly.
There seems to be little question that Mourinho will get a tune out of his players in the short-term – there is too much for everyone riding on it not to work. Spurs supporters may have concerns for the longer term but Levy is right to act immediately for the benefit of the future. Spurs need to start a new cycle next summer and that will be far easier as a Champions League club.
To retain that status, they have to pull in City, Chelsea or Leicester. Despite City being closest, Pep Guardiola’s champions will surely push Liverpool the hardest. Leicester and Chelsea could be caught; their credentials for the long haul have yet to be proven. Chelsea especially could be vulnerable if they lose the momentum a six-match winning run has provided them.
Spurs have made the change that perhaps Arsenal needed to and Manchester United don’t look fit to mount a sustained push. So Mourinho doesn’t have to worry much about the other teams jostling for position, only those looking over their shoulder. And you would be a fool to bet against a ‘refreshed and humble’ Jose from reining them in.