Tottenham’s opening fixture against big-spending Everton was never going to be an easy start. The defeat itself at this early stage of the season is by no means a disaster, but the manner of the defeat is very worrying. Tottenham seemed to show absolutely no desire to win the game of football. They were slow both on and off the ball, they couldn’t string together any meaningful possession and the lack of creativity in the side was blindingly obvious.
Carlo Ancelotti got his tactics spot on and made Spurs pay for their poor performance. Whether Mourinho got his tactics wrong or his side failed to execute them is a question to be raised, but the Portuguese coach was undoubtedly frustrated after the game. Performances like this were somewhat accepted last season due to the timing of Mourinho coming in and the injuries his side had but this leniency from the fans will not last forever, particularly as his appointment divided the fan base instantly. Many fans felt his negative approach to games was against everything spurs had come to stand for in their philosophy while others’ desperation for silverware meant they were willing to back José. Daniel Levy has been an admirer of Mourinho for a long time and was delighted to get him on board but this could be a relationship that ends in disaster and this post explores why.
Mourinho is famous for being successful in his second season at a club and Tottenham will be hoping that this pattern will be reciprocated this season. However, more recently he has also had a tendency to self-destruct and alienate all those around him when things aren’t going well and it is this scenario which spurs will be desperate to avoid. He has adopted a squad that has been struggling for a while, with last season’s Champions League final appearance merely papering over some very large cracks.
Towards the end of Mauricio Pochettino’s time in charge he looked like a man who had nothing left to give. He had tried and tried again to find a solution but spurs were struggling. The side desperately needed investment and Pochettino was never really satisfied with his lack of say on contracts and transfers throughout his five years at the club. These are all problems that Mourinho seems to be starting to realise for himself.
Tottenham’s chairman Daniel Levy is notorious for his strict wage structure and being very difficult to deal with, particularly in the transfer window. This has led to Tottenham missing out on a number of transfers over the years, with Levy refusing to budge on his stance on wages and fees. While Tottenham do have a brand new state-of-the-art stadium, fans were ensured that the money spent on this was from a separate pot of money to the transfer funds. Under Pochettino Spurs went a whole year without making a signing and this would have infuriated Pochettino, with the Argentinian more aware than anyone that his squad could not stand still and needed freshening up. José has adopted a talented squad but a squad that, almost to a man, has been underperforming and he needs to do something to change this.
The problem for Tottenham is that Mourinho will not take as long as his predecessor to grow restless if the board fail to invest in the side. He also wants players that can play a particular away and going by previous history these will not necessarily be the players the club have gone for. Spurs’ business model has been to buy players with potential, who will reach their prime in a few seasons and are also likely to increase in value. Mourinho is known to favour ready made players who will be able to implement his tactics.
It is highly unlikely that Mourinho would have accepted the job at Tottenham, particularly mid-season, without assurances that there will be investment and he will have at least an element of control over transfers. Levy has been a admirer of Mourinho for years and it has been said that José has always been his dream manager. This infatuation with the idea of Mourinho guiding Tottenham to glory is perhaps the only thing that could make Levy budge on his transfer and wage policy. This is the exact reason this could end up being a very expensive gamble. If it doesn’t work out Tottenham could be left with a squad that goes against their philosophy and with little resale value that any manager coming in would have to work very hard to rebuild. In short, this relationship could leave a mess that takes a considerable amount of time to clean up which is something Tottenham cannot afford if they want to continue to push for Champions League football year on year.
The main issue that Tottenham fans are likely to have with Mourinho is the same issue that fans of Manchester United had. The style of play. Mourinho is a winner and he doesn’t care what that looks like but fans of Manchester United grew accustomed to exciting, attacking football that entertained under Sir Alex Ferguson, and this was not at the expense of success. Tottenham may not have achieved the success of United but they have also acquired a taste for the finer style of football they have seen their side play in recent years. Pochettino’s brand of football was thrilling at times and Harry Redknapp before him was also a manager who was far more concerned with attack than defence.
While Mourinho deserves to be given time the football has been awful at times. Admittedly it had been for a while prior to his appointment with the players seemingly lacking ideas and weary from five years of the same methods. Many felt that Spurs needed something new, and perhaps they were right, but the issues stem far deeper than Pochettino’s methods. However, with the end of Pochettino’s tenure becoming less raw Spurs fans will look back fondly on the football played at times and the success they achieved with it with a series of top four finishes and Champions League final appearance, although a trophy remained elusive.
The argument that was damning for Pochettino and favours Mourinho is the subject of trophies. Despite his obvious ability, Pochettino has never won a trophy in his managerial career. Mourinho, on the other hand, has won 22. However, his powers to seem to have weaned somewhat with attacking, high-pressing football making a revolution in recent years. He is a manager that concentrates on his defence first and works his way forward. A perfectly legitimate method of building a team, however at some point some emphasis must be given to the forward players.
Spurs were a painful watch against Everton on Sunday. Everything was far too slow and it culminated in a lacklustre performance. Some consideration must be given to the condensed pre-season and the perhaps unnecessary international break but this was the same for every side in the Premier League. Christian Eriksen’s performances prior to his departure to Inter Milan were really poor and seemed to be those of a player whose head was elsewhere but Spurs have still missed him dearly. His vision and ability to pick a pass was something Spurs were desperately in need of on Sunday. Giovani Lo Celso was absent and has looked to be a talented individual but he has come nowhere near to filling the void left by Eriksen yet. Tottenham have gone from arguably one of the most exciting sides to watch in the Premier League to one of the worst which should be inexplicable with the players they still have at their disposal. Fans’ absence from the stadium may be a blessing for Mourinho as there is no doubt they would be voicing their discontent at the football on display from their team.
Spurs have made two signings so far this summer. They have signed Irishman Matt Doherty from Wolves after an impressive couple of seasons for in the Premier League and midfield enforcer Pierre-Emile Højbjerg from Southampton. Doherty has flourished at right wing-back for Wolves and his ability going forward was a key component of the way they played. However, it will be interesting to see how he does in a conventional back four under Mourinho and he may be used in a similar way as Serge Aurier has been under Jose. Aurier is used as almost a right winger when Spurs are attacking with the more defensively minded Ben Davies tucking in from left-back go form a defensive back three allowing Aurier to attack. Højbjerg will slot straight into the midfield as he did against Everton but it remains to be seen if he will play as a double pivot with Harry Winks long-term or of Mourinho’s hand was forced by Lo Celso being unavailable.
It is hard to imagine that either of these signings will get Spurs fans too excited but they appear to be players that Mourinho wanted. Right-back was an area that required improvement as Mourinho doesn’t trust Aurier due to his reckless nature. Højbjerg’s aggression in midfield will help Mourinho’s side become more difficult to play against and the Dane regained possession more than any other player in the Premier League last season.
If Levy wasn’t chairman of Tottenham then it would be hard to imagine that Spurs’ transfer business is done for the window but his shortcomings in bringing in players in previous windows will raise doubts. Spurs desperately need a striker to share some of the burden with Kane. Kane has looked exhausted at times and has struggled with injuries in periods over the last couple of seasons. The difficulty comes from the fact that it is very difficult to sign a striker of quality who is willing to play second fiddle to a player who will always be first choice. This has been Spurs’ problem for a number of seasons and it is appearing to be problematic once more, with links to the likes of Troy Deeney leaving fans with heads in their hands.
Question marks must be raised over whether the signings of Højbjerg and Doherty actually improve Spurs. In recent seasons Spurs have lost Moussa Dembele, Victor Wanyama, Christian Eriksen and Kieran Trippier to name a few. Arguably all of those players are better than Spurs’ two new recruits. Watching the game on Sunday it must have been difficult for Spurs fans to see Everton’s new signings Allan and James Rodriguez perform so well for their new club. Two players that could quite easily have improved the Spurs eleven and were obviously available this summer. James’ creativity would be a huge improvement on what Spurs have now and it is difficult to argue against Allan being a better player than Højbjerg performing much the same role.
It is not just the new signings, or lack of, that is a worry for Spurs. The current crop aren’t performing and haven’t been for some time. The principle example of this is Dele Alli. When Mourinho first came in he was clearly hoping he could help Alli rediscover his form and make him a key member of the side. Alli showed glimpses in the first few weeks of Mourinho’s reign but this soon fizzled out. Alli looks a shadow of his former self and it is difficult to see what it will take to get him back to his best. Mourinho has also placed a lot of faith in the likes of Eric Dier and Lucas Moura despite their performances never really warranting it. The squad undoubtedly needs freshening up. Too many of the squad have been there for a long time and have become too comfortable, perhaps losing the hunger to fight for their place and becoming disillusioned by the goings on at the club.
Spurs can not afford to stand still or before they know it they may be in the market for a first choice striker rather than a back up. Harry Kane is in the peak of his career and will be 28 by the start of next season. He has been very loyal to Tottenham but he cannot wait forever to win a trophy and he certainly won’t stick around if the club appear to be going backwards. He will never be short of offers and would of course command a huge price tag but his goals would be a huge loss.
The loss of goals may be insignificant when compared to the rippling effect the Spurs talisman leaving could have. Those around him would no doubt question their own futures at the club, particularly if Kane goes on to have success and win trophies elsewhere. If the club refuse to invest in bridging the gap to the top sides in the league and Europe then they could find themselves in free-fall. Kane has looked sluggish at times in the last year and has been struggling to get involved in games which is undoubtedly somewhat down to Mourinho’s tactics. If the lack of trophies aren’t enough to make Kane look elsewhere then the style of football might be.
Levy did loosen the purse stings in the summer of 2019 to severe the services of talented Frenchman Tanguy Ndombele for £63m. It’s fair to say it’s a move that hasn’t yet come to fruition with the 23 year-old struggling initially under Pochettino and now barely featuring under Mourinho. This is a saga that looks like deja vu from the outside with its similarities to the feud between Mourinho and another Frenchman, Paul Pogba, at Manchester United. Ndombele is by no means blameless in this dispute as it is unforgivable that a club’s most expensive transfer should be unfit which has been cited as an issue by both Pochettino and Mourinho. However, when Ndombele does play he shows glimpses of the talent that made Tottenham pay so much for his services and his ability to run with the ball and break the lines with his passing is something Tottenham’s midfield is so desperately in need of. This is a tricky situation for Spurs and the board. They will not want to have their record signing continue to be absent from the side but also won’t want to risk selling him for him to prove to be a world-class talent further down the line. Is backing Mourinho worth losing the talent they tried so hard to acquire?
Ndombele is one reason Mourinho could turn out to be a very expensive gamble on Levy’s part. Mourinho is also now the best paid manager in the Premier League and yet so far the results haven’t merited this, although he has had injuries and a series of issues to deal with. There is no doubt he should be given time to be a success at Tottenham but the short-sightedness of his approach could result in lasting damage if he is not a success at Tottenham.
It is unfair to say that Mourinho’s methods are outdated but his defensive approach is proving increasingly difficult to sell to his players who have seen the attacking approaches of Klopp and Guardiola prove so successful elsewhere. Mourinho will also not stand for a lot of the things that Pochettino did for so long. Should there continue to be a lack of investment and key targets missed then expect Mourinho to be vocal on these subjects. While Pochettino was clearly fed up, history denotes Mourinho is likely to be more fiery and if he is to go on the warpath with Levy things could get very ugly for both sides. However, any sacking of the three time premier league winner will result in a very costly payout that would dent Tottenham’s finances further. If Mourinho brings silverware to Tottenham then the gamble could be said to have paid off but if not then this could be a relationship that ends in disaster.