In the giddy, whirlwind 48 hours between the formation and dissolution of the Super League, Spurs somehow managed to find time to sack their manager. Brought in to finally take Spurs away from their Spursy heritage and deliver long-awaited silverware, Jose Mourinho instead made them Spursier than they had been at any time since Tim Sherwood rocked up in his banter bus and gilet.
Here’s our countdown of the 10 Spursiest moments of Jose Mourinho’s Spursy 19 months at Spurs.
10) Dropping 20 Points From Winning Positions This Season
Plenty of these get their own entry later on, but as a collective they’re a worthy inclusion because they represent both the very essence of both Spursiness and Mourinho’s own moribund, fearful tactics. Spursiness has never just been about losing or bad things happening – any old club can do that. Spursiness is about something more. It’s about losing when it seems impossible. It is snatching humiliating defeat from the jaws of victory or at the very least from the jaws of not making total absolute arseholes of yourselves.
And while this frequent pissing away of leads was undoubtedly Spursy – dramatically so in certain infamous cases – it was at least as much down to Jose and his tactics. While the alpha persona and posturing remained, the sad fact is that Mourinho the Spurs manager was a much reduced figure. Even from his Chelsea and United failures. This was a Mourinho who by the end was just utterly terrified of the sport over which he once presided as its all-conquering ego king. Fear of failure overtook him and became fear of anything that could in any way cause failure.
By the end, this list of things Mourinho was too scared to even consider included (but was not limited to): having the ball, not having the ball, having the lead, not having the lead, attacking, defending and Dele Alli. If Spurs had held on to even half those 20 points, they would now be third and five points clear of fifth.
9) Sheffield United 3-1 Tottenham
Just a quite alarmingly terrible performance early on in Project Restart, bad enough to become Spursy despite never having any of the prospect of glory that usually precedes pure Spursiness. This was the Spursiness of lazy, feckless, arrogance. Sheffield United were still quite good at the time, but surely couldn’t ever have expected as easy an afternoon as Spurs at their uninterested, slapdash worst gave them. Not for the first time, and certainly not the last, Mourinho and his team appeared entirely unprepared for the challenge that lay in front of them and incapable of doing anything about it once the penny had dropped.
9) Tottenham 1-1 Newcastle
The first of Spurs’ careless point-droppings of the season back in September and one that set a template. Inferior opposition? Check. First-half goal? Check. Dominating and controlling the game and looking capable of scoring more goals? Check. Dropping inexplicably deeper and deeper and inviting pressure in the second half? Conceding ludicrous goal late in the game? Check.
At the time, we said: ‘Spurs could have put this game to bed in the first half, but in the second they allowed it to drift aimlessly to its concluding sucker-punch banter. It is a genuinely mad way to play football in 2020, especially when in charge of a squad that possesses many great attacking qualities but has Eric Dier as a starting centre–back.’
It’s happened six more times since. Ludicrous antics.
8) Liverpool 2-1 Tottenham
Spursy in the extreme because Tottenham actually played pretty well and didn’t deserve to lose. Mourinho’s low-block-and-counter was eminently justifiable against a Liverpool team who had torn better teams than Spurs to shreds over the previous two years. It could very easily have worked; never mind holding on for a point, Spurs should have had the game won themselves before the non-goalscoring striker Roberto Firmino scored a goal from a corner that Tim Sherwood had declared would pose Spurs’ defence no problem. Even so, Spurs had lost only narrowly to a Liverpool side that was basically unstoppable at Anfield. You had to give Mourinho some credit for almost getting a point from such barren ground. Liverpool failed to win any of their next eight Premier League games at Anfield, losing the last six of those in succession in a run that only ended this month against Aston Villa.
7) Tottenham 1-3 Manchester United
The performance at Arsenal was arguably even meeker than this one, but this game gets in for highlighting just how fragile Mourinho’s Spurs had become and how capable they were of looking any gift horse in the mouth. After 30 minutes where nothing much happened, Manchester United had a lovely-looking goal disallowed for a pretty tame foul on Heung-Min Son in the build-up. It wasn’t anything like as bad a decision as some of the overblown punditry would go on to make out, but it was certainly a debatable one of the sort that is going to rankle if it goes against you. Especially when the player adjudged to have been fouled goes on to score himself five minutes later. From seemingly going 1-0 down, Spurs suddenly found themselves 1-0 up. It was a huge break. A total momentum shifter. So… how did Spurs respond? By spending the entire second half asleep or petrified or both as United scored three without reply to render Spurs’ first-half good fortune moot.
5) Both Chelsea Games Last Season
Gaslight Jose has mainly been a feature of this season’s miserabilism, but there were glimpses of it last year. Mourinho was often at pains to point out (not unjustifiably) that he took over a team playing badly and struggling, and thus a top-four finish was a big ask and not really on the cards. He had a point, yet Spurs twice got to within striking distance of those all-important Champions League spots ahead of games against Chelsea. At both their own ground in December and Stamford Bridge in February, a Spurs win would have taken them above their opponents into the top four. In both games Spurs were, and this is the technical term, sh*t. They lost 2-0 at home and avoided the same scoreline in the away game only thanks to a late Antonio Rudiger own goal.
4) Losing To Norwich And Eric Dier Climbing Into The Stands For A Fight With A Fan
Eric Dier climbing into the stands for a fight with a fan was such a jaw-dropping moment that weeks later football decided that fans would have to be banned from games to ensure this never happened again and even stopped matches happening altogether for a while. Mourinho’s deflection tactics are a well-used part of his post-defeat armoury, but he didn’t need to make much effort on this occasion given what had occurred. It still wasn’t quite enough to stop fans wondering just why such a Born Winner had decided to start Michel Vorm in goal for a knockout game in the one trophy Spurs could still win.
In a match that, looking back now from what is somehow only 13 months later, carried some eerie foreshadowing of what would become the defining trait of Mourinho’s Spurs, Jan Vertonghen gave them an early lead before Norwich – well on their way to relegation by this stage – gradually gained a foothold and then control before collecting an equaliser when Vorm spilled a shot into the path of Josip Drmic. Remaining on brand, Spurs also had the early advantage in the penalty shootout thanks to Kenny McLean’s miss, but then squandered it.
3) Tottenham 3-3 West Ham
One must be careful about pinpointing the exact moments things go wrong, but the wild final 10 minutes of this now legendary slice of Barclays really were something else. While it’s worth noting that Spurs had already demonstrated their mastery of the Control Game Before Sitting Back And Conceding Late Equaliser genre against Newcastle (see above) and would actually go on to win five of their next six Premier League matches after this, there’s no doubt that something changed in Mourinho and Spurs that day. The devastating counter-attacking of the wins over Southampton and Manchester United was never quite seen again after West Ham’s absurd and unlikely comeback in a game that Mourinho allowed to carry on going from end to end like a basketball game because honestly what could go wrong from 3-0 up against a West Ham side tipped for relegation? Mourinho learned a harsh lesson about Spursiness that day; it haunted and coloured everything he did from that day forth.
2) Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 Tottenham
The undoubted on-field nadir and perhaps the final, decisive puncturing of the Mourinho illusion. Spurs turned up ill-prepared and disorganised for what were supposed to be the formalities of securing a Europa League quarter-final spot against a team who had been soundly beaten in the first leg a week earlier. Dinamo came to play, though, and Spurs had absolutely no answer. It was a collective performance so devoid of spirit, tactics, skill or intelligence that Hugo Lloris felt moved to call out literally everyone at the club about it.
1) His Sacking
Remarkable really, given the ground we’ve just covered, that the end of Mourinho’s reign actually manages to be the Spursiest thing about it. But truly, there really is no contest. There’s the obvious financial hit that Spurs have taken just to get the miserable mood-hoover off the premises, and the fact all this upheaval came six days before a cup final. Both quite Spursy. But its entwinement with the whole Super League fiasco truly elevates this.
For several weeks now it’s been clear that things were not going to get better under Mourinho and Spurs might as well get rid. One of the primary reasons for this being such a straightforward decision was that the mood among the fans had grown so fractious and febrile that removing the cause would provide a lift in mood that in and of itself would be worth more than whatever Mourinho was doing to fill his days. Daniel Levy, though, has managed to time everything in such a way that he has done the one thing certain to lift the mood around the whole club, yet done so at the one specific point in time that means everyone is still angrier and more disillusioned than they were a week ago. Spursy, that.