‘Mourinho leaves Spurs after little daring or doing’

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April 22, 2021
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    Gareth Bale and Jose MourinhoMourinho's time at Spurs saw Gareth Bale return to the club on loan from Real Madrid

    Tottenham Hotspur's decision to sack Jose Mourinho is a shock when measured by its timing – but hardly a surprise when judged by the direction of travel of his tenure.

    Spurs announced Mourinho's dismissal while under an avalanche of criticism for the club's move to join the proposed new European Super League but, of more immediate significance, it comes only six days before they face Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley.

    It is a bold strategy when Mourinho has guided Spurs to within one game of their first major honour since they won this competition since 2008, but the graph has been heading on a downward curve for some time.

    • Follow live reaction to Mourinho sacking and European Super League

    A battle to replace Pochettino in hearts of fans

    When Spurs sacked the hugely popular Mauricio Pochettino in November 2019, only six months after he took them to a Champions League final where they lost 2-0 to Liverpool, Mourinho was seen as the hard-nosed pragmatist with a track record of success who would succeed in one area where his predecessor had failed.

    Namely, he would win trophies. It has not happened.

    Mourinho and chairman Daniel Levy will never know if this would have been the case as the Portuguese has been unceremoniously jettisoned before he gets the chance to prove it on Sunday.

    Regardless, the Spurs motto is "To Dare Is To Do" – Mourinho leaves having done very little daring or doing in his 17 months at the club.

    Spurs fans, in the main, reluctantly swallowed Mourinho's arrival in succession to Pochettino based on his past successes at clubs such as Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, another spell at Chelsea and then at Manchester United.

    Even though he is generally regarded as a failure at Old Trafford, he still won the EFL Cup and the Europa League in his first season.

    Watch: Jose Mourinho's last interview as Tottenham boss

    Mourinho's time at Old Trafford ended ignominiously, however, amid dressing room discontent, the manager's downbeat demeanour a constant backdrop to poor results and dull football, the end coming after a dismal 3-1 defeat at Liverpool in December 2018.

    Spurs were trusting in Mourinho discovering his old powers and their supporters being willing to accept a slightly less exciting brand of football than they had witnessed under Pochettino in exchange for tangible success.

    It seemed a risky, somewhat uncomfortable fit at the time and Levy's parting words that "things have not worked out as we both envisaged" carried heavy understatement.

    Mourinho faced a battle to win the hearts and minds of Spurs supporters, many of whom believed Pochettino should have received greater backing from the club's hierarchy rather than the sack.

    And, even in the Covid-19 pandemic era of empty stadia for more than a year, it is a fight Mourinho failed to win, never getting anywhere near the adoration, success or style of his predecessor, even though Spurs had dropped to 14th place in the Premier League when Pochettino was sacked.

    Mourinho's highlights reel at Spurs would be very sparse, his work in guiding them up to sixth place at the end of his first season overshadowed by the failure to reach the Champions League and an emphatic exit in that competition as they lost both legs to go out 4-0 on aggregate to RB Leipzig in the last 16.

    Spurs sparked briefly this season, albeit with more substance than style, and went top of the table in November after a typical display of Mourinho efficiency and tactical expertise saw them beat Manchester City 2-0.

    Too cautious and negative?

    There has not been much to celebrate since as they were knocked out of the FA Cup when they lost 5-4 at Everton then suffered a humiliating exit in the Europa League, which was shaping up as their best chance of Champions League football, conceding a 2-0 first-leg advantage to lose 3-0 to Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia.

    Mourinho's stock has fallen and there are familiar questions about his methods and failure to move with the times tactically, as Spurs produced a damaging and sterile series of performances against their closest rivals when losing at home to Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United as well as in the north London derby to Arsenal.

    There was a thread of cautious, negative football running through so many games – a fatal combination when it cannot be backed up with good results.

    Mourinho will point to statistics that show he has picked up the fourth highest number of points in the Premier League since his appointment, but his 10 defeats in the competition this season marks the worst of his career.

    The cautious approach he adopted is also reflected in Spurs' inability to defend a lead under Mourinho. Only Brighton (31) and Southampton (30) lost more points from winning positions than Spurs, who shipped 27, in his time at the club.

    Jose Mourinho's managerial honours
    Club Major trophies
    Porto (2002-04) Primeira Liga (x2), Champions League, Uefa Cup (now Europa League), Portuguese Cup
    Chelsea (2004-07 and 2013-15) Premier League (x3), FA Cup, League Cup (x3)
    Inter Milan (2008-10) Serie A (x2), Champions League, Coppa Italia
    Real Madrid (2010-13) La Liga, Copa del Rey
    Manchester United (2016-18) Europa League, League Cup
    Tottenham (2019-21) None

    And there were other factors bubbling away in the background which would have increased unease in the Spurs boardroom and sounded warning signals with supporters.

    The much-heralded return of Gareth Bale on loan has proved a fruitless and expensive exercise so far, the player who illuminated Spurs so often in his first spell at the club often cutting a detached, peripheral figure with Mourinho rarely showing any appetite to use him as a key part of his plans, never appearing fully convinced by his worth.

    And, in recent weeks, even more trouble appeared to be looming on the horizon with suggestions that Spurs' world-class striker and the very symbol of the club, England captain Harry Kane, may seek to move if they did not qualify for the Champions League.

    Whether sacking Mourinho somehow revives Spurs' top-four hopes remains to be seen but the loss of Kane is almost unthinkable. He has been involved in 62 goals in 62 appearances under Mourinho and his double that rescued an undeserved point at Everton took him to 21 in the Premier League this season – on course for the Golden Boot.

    In the final reckoning, Spurs had simply become dull under Mourinho, they were not winning enough games and the future of stellar individuals such as Kane were cast into doubt among an atmosphere of general discontent.

    It all has echoes of the end of previous Mourinho managerial reigns, with only the timing a shock.

    What next for Mourinho?

    There will always be a market for managers like Mourinho, who can put his winning record on the table, but he is now involved in the law of diminishing returns when it comes to the stature of clubs who will want him.

    Mourinho is still headline news and wherever he arrives will ignite hopes that the return of the charismatic "Special One" will lead to former successes being revived.

    Even when he left Manchester United, where he stayed at a city centre hotel rather than establish a permanent home in the area, he could answer his critics to some extent by pointing at two trophies then a second-placed finish in the Premier League which he described as "one of his best achievements" because "people don't know what is going on behind the scenes".

    He cannot do that after this unfulfilling, failed spell at Spurs and it is hard to see any return to the Premier League for a man who, for all the questions, has a magnificent record and has been one of the towering managerial figures of the modern era.

    There are not too many truly elite clubs around Europe who would consider turning to Mourinho at present, although he could yet prove a lure for someone, so it may be that his next role could be one he has spoken about taking in the latter stages of his career, specifically coach of Portugal.

    The Mourinho era in the Premier League looks to be over – and for good or bad it will be a less lively place without him.

    What next for Spurs?

    The sudden nature of Mourinho's sacking suggests Tottenham have a clear vision of his successor, although how swiftly the appointment is made is still under question as Ryan Mason, who has been working with the academy, took training on Monday.

    The very obvious candidate is RB Leipzig's Julian Nagelsmann, the 33-year-old who is regarded as one of Europe's brightest young coaches, but the complication now may well be interest from Bayern Munich after coach Hansi Flick announced his intention to leave. Bayern may well prove a far more attractive proposition to Spurs for the German should they pursue a serious interest.

    In the Premier League, Leicester City's Brendan Rodgers will surely attract attention but would he really consider walking away from the Foxes, who he is building into a formidable force?

    Nuno Espirito Santo of Wolves has also been touted.

    Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone continues to do a superb job but would his brand of football be any more palatable than Mourinho's? Rafael Benitez is out of work but in many respects occupies the same territory as Mourinho.

    It is a decision of huge importance for Levy and Spurs. They got it wrong with Mourinho – at a time of such turmoil in the game and stakes being so high they cannot afford to get it wrong again.

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