Twenty trophies. Two Champions Leagues. Two Europa Leagues. Five domestic leagues in four countries. Under any other circumstance, a manager of this calibre joining Tottenham Hotspur would be an unrivalled celebration. The club in desperate need of silverware and a winning mentality finding a manager that’s won it all. A celebration matched with widespread enthusiasm by both players and fans alike.
However, the person coming into the job is no normal manager, but José Mourinho. The shock announcement of The Special One as the new manager of Spurs has sent shock waves across the footballing world and has entirely split fans of the club. What has made Mourinho’s appointment just so divisive among Spurs fans, and, more crucially, was it the right decision?
Let alone challenging for the title, Spurs look like relegation fodder
After five-and-a-half years at the club, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy came to the decision to sack manager Mauricio Pochettino. After months of poor domestic results in the first 14 games of the season, and backing into last, it has seen Spurs replicate relegation form , let alone challenging for the title. At the time of writing, they sit in just 14th position and are yet to register an away win in about a year. Damning statistics for any club. The next day, it was announced that José Mourinho had officially been appointed the new manager of Tottenham Hotspur.
Just let that sink in. The man that coached both Manchester United and Chelsea, one of our biggest rivals, would be taking over from the one of our youngest, most promising managers. The move to sack Pochettino came as a genuine shock to not just Spurs fans, but world football. Only six months ago, he had led Spurs to an unprecedented Champions League final for the first time in our history. While the Champions League run papered over many of the emerging cracks at the club, the achievement alone warrants immense praise. For some, this achievement should have been merited with time to complete his ‘painful rebuild’.
What makes the move even stranger is that Pochettino never lost the fans. Managers can often lose the dressing room, but once they’ve lost the fanbase, they stand no chance of redeeming their position. However, even during the dismal performances against Newcastle and Sheffield United at home this season, Pochettino never really lost his popularity. Many at the club genuinely believed that he was the man to turn Spurs around.
The majority of the blame should firmly lie on the players and the board, not the manager. Pochettino has made numerous mistakes this season. His selection has been poor, he’s placed his faith in the disgruntled Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen, liability Serge Aurier and has shown a lot of tactical rigidity. The once effective Tottenham high-press morphed into a half-hearted tragedy.
The blame cannot be attributed to just Pochettino
However, Pochettino could only work with what he was given. The signings of Tanguy N’Dombele, Ryan Sessegnon and Giovani Lo Celso mask the financial constraints Pochettino worked with. He faced two transfer windows signing absolutely no one, yet kept Spurs punching above their weight year after year. With this, the failure to sell players at the end of their contract, like Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld, has left his once unified squad as a disgruntled conglomerate passively willing to play for the manager, but not the badge. The blame cannot be attributed to just Pochettino, but the players and more firmly Daniel Levy.
Yet, there is a feeling that all was not right with Spurs and Pochettino. Pochettino’s love affair with the media, in which he threatened to leave Tottenham if they won the Champions league, left consistent question marks over his future. The man once passionate for the club became bitter and incensed in interviews. Rumours of rifts with some of his key players like Lucas Moura emerged. Tactics became frantic and decisions questionable. Suddenly, Pochettino seemed like a man out of ideas with little alternatives to re-invigorate this Tottenham side. In the end, something had to be changed.
Enter Mourinho. What Mourinho immediately brings is a winning mentality. He’s won it all. For Spurs, it is that very winning mentality that has alluded them all these years. It’s a huge testament to the kind of club Spurs have become to attract a manager like Mourinho (as weird as it still sounds).
The ultimate question is whether Mourinho has really adapted to the tactics of the modern game and will embrace the culture at Spurs. It was his failure to adapt his tactics at Chelsea and Manchester United that ultimately saw his catastrophic failures. Tottenham, an attractive playing side that champions youth, is directly at odds with the experienced pragmatism of a Mourinho team.
Only time will tell if he keeps his promises
However, Mourinho has made it particularly clear that he will adapt to the way Tottenham play. In his first press confidence, he admitted: “In my career, I have made mistakes”. It truly feels like there may well be a reinvented Mourinho, one truly adapted to the modern game and willing to respect what has been built at Tottenham for the past five years. He will be faced with immense challenges in dealing with the contract rebels, keeping Harry Kane happy and continuing to integrate youth into this Spurs side. But, he has committed to all of these things. Only time will tell if he keeps his promises and, more importantly, his passion.
So, will he be a success at Tottenham? It ultimately depends on which Mourinho Tottenham get. If this is the Mourinho of old, it is fair to say we may be in a fair amount of trouble. Three years of defensive football, maybe an EFL cup, but a club left in tatters. But, if this is, as he himself as alluded to, a Mourinho willing to adapt, willing to listen and, most crucially, willing to change, perhaps this unlikely pair can finally take Tottenham over the line at last. This decision must be seen as one of the biggest risks in the club’s history, a risk that could genuinely fall either way.