This week, I was told I should be grateful that Jose Mourinho is Spurs’ manager. This nugget of wisdom came from a new breed of football fan, one who supports an individual rather than a team. He (it’s bound to be a man) follows me on twitter only because his chosen one is now at my club. See also Messi and Ronaldo fanboys.
And there you have it. The difference between a long-term supporter and a passer-by, because I think Mourinho should be grateful to be at my club. Players and managers come and go, supporters are the one true constant in the life of any and every club. We hold the club’s history and heritage, Mourinho should be honoured and proud to be a part of it. He has a chance to add to it.
I wonder why he’s here. And, while I usually avoid simplistic accounts because in football as in life they’re invariably wrong, what on earth is he doing? It’s a legitimate question after last night, the only question.
To be complete, it should also be addressed to the players as Tottenham living rooms across the UK and the world joined as one voice to shout at their television, many, many times during 90 minutes, ‘what the f**k are you doing?” The second half was excruciating. No plan, no shape, no inspiration. Can’t pass, can’t shoot, can’t defend. Can’t go on.
My expectations aren’t excessive. We’re not going to qualify for the Champions League, and frankly with the team the way it is, Europa league football feels like torture, so I won’t complain if we don’t make that either. We’re getting back to full fitness after the break. I bear no sense of entitlement. I’ve never fallen for the ‘Jose’s a born winner’ horsedung.
No. I’ve set my sights low. At times pre-lockdown, the players appeared not have been introduced to each other, let alone understand what they were supposed to be doing on the field. I’ve been looking for some sense of direction, that Mourinho had a message for the players and that he could get this through to them. Rebuilding after Poch left behind joyous memories and a bit of a mess. I’ll be patient, because I’ve been around for a while and will be for a while longer. Howevr, even these low expectations are unfeasible.
Mourinho copped stick after the Man Utd game for his negative tactics, and anyone who has dropped into this blog over the past decade knows I want attacking football in the Spurs Way more than anyone. But I loved it. I enjoyed seeing the wide midfielders drop back so our full-backs weren’t constantly exposed. I cherished the sight of a back four close together in a line, leaving few gaps. I cheered Sissoko and Winks sitting in front of the back four. Mourinho’s message was heard, and the players looked confident. For now, that’s the most important thing for the team.
Granted, it also proved how far we’ve fallen. Everybody back behind the ball, or as I am now duty bound to call it, the low block, isn’t pretty and it’s a telling sign that we no longer have the ability or ambition to take the game to opponents with a pressing style. Also, the difference between us and them was the class that we used to have and United in Pogba and Fernandes now possess. Buying N’Dombele rather than Fernandes looks like a catastrophic error in the market. But we did not collapse, and dropping back was the right approach in that game.
West Ham were a different challenge, where we had to come out and break them down. And so a different approach, with a raft of attackers given freedom to move around and across the frontline, building patiently from the back.
Two games, two approaches, early days but here is the manager successfully adapting to circumstances. Or so I believed. I don’t like the way Mourinho carries or presents himself. I don’t think he is the right fit at this club. But he’s our man, love the shirt and build again. After all, I’ve seen George Graham turn Rebrov from one of the most admired strikers in Europe to a hustler forlornly pursuing ill-directed headed flick-ons. I’ve seen Terry Neill practice being a manager at Spurs while he waited for the Ar***al vacancy. Ah, the 90s, no direction, not even false hopes, just no hope. Where mediocrity was an ambition not a disaster. The battle for 9th. Finishing position in single figures! So I know how to handle this.
Sheffield United are often unfairly and mistakenly characterised as willing triers who put in a lot of effort. They are much more than this. Work rate is a means towards an end. They are tactically sophisticated with an understanding of their players’ talents and how to maximise their potential as a team. Everything Spurs are not. As the commentator said towards the end, Wilder outsmarted Mourinho.
None of this is an excuse for some wretched individual performances. Abject defending. Turning open space into blind alleys. Relying on Aurier to cross the ball accurately or Sissoko to pass the ball. Lo Celso wasted deep.
Commitment is nothing unless it is allied to clarity of focus. Sanchez summed up Spurs’ approach, incensed by what he thought, wrongly, was an unjust foul against him in the last five minutes. I wish he had become as worked up about trying to win the game. And hey kids – you do memes, dontcha!? TV close-up of N’Dombele’s face as, “why am I here???” And yet, that ball he slid through a packed defence to Kane, who was offside but that’s what he can do that we sorely need.
VAR – a cursed blight on football that delights keyboard fanboys and TV execs, nobody else. Rant elsewhere on this blog, not doing it again. One day, I’ll dig it out and you can add it yourselves to every game where it is used.
Elbow in the face when a player is on a yellow. Referees huh? Atrocious decision.
I planned a piece comparing Spurs and Liverpool. Force yourself to recall the days when we finished consistently ahead of them because they did not have a clear vision on and off the pitch. However, Jack Pitt-Brooke has written it in The Athletic this week, so read that. Summary: Klopp was backed by the board, Poch wasn’t.
Klopp and Mourinho both have egos the size of a postal district. Shrinking violets don’t cut it as football managers. But there’s a difference. Earlier this week, The Athletic headlined a Klopp piece, “it’s never about him”. With JM, there’s only him. Publicly criticising his own players. Last night, it sounded as if he spent the second half polishing his VAR speech rather than changing his team so they played better. In March, it was all about buying players, “July 1st! July 1st!” Earlier this week, ‘we don’t need anyone’. Last night, he’s saying that he feared the players wouldn’t have the mental strength. “Now I know more about the profile of my players”. He’s had 7 months. As if he has no influence over these matters. He’s worked hard over the break to get to know his men. He’s not getting through. His first instinct is to protect himself.
So what is he doing here? It’s rare, though not unheard of, that successful leaders drop down from the pinnacle of their chosen field to begin again and build something up with equal success. They think it’s an appealing prospect. Do what you did before, feel the rush of growth of progress, better than those stale moments during the inevitable fall from the peaks, a reminder of younger days. It’s seldom the same. Never go back.
Mourinho built with limited resources at Porto, but that was a while ago, ancient history in football terms. His task at Spurs is build and rejuvenate with limited resources, something that he’s not done for a long time. Never mind the players, Jose, time to reflect on what you’re doing, because Levy won’t save you with cash for players, and this can’t go on.