The good, the bad and the ugly: José Mourinho’s appointment as head coach by Tottenham Hotspur means his managerial modus operandi is back in the Premier League.
Fans of Spurs and some of their players may mourn the sacking of Mauricio Pochettino and question their new No 1, wondering which Mourinho has just walked through the door. This is the big question: is the Portuguese a spent force? Is he yesterday’s man whose scintillating peak came from 2002-10?
That was the (very) good Mourinho. The man with the magical winning touch whose players adored him, whose arrival at Stamford Bridge in 2004 sent a shockwave through predominant Manchester United, and who in May 2010 handed Inter a first European Cup since 1965.
Yet on taking over at Old Trafford six years after that triumph at the Bernabéu, Mourinho’s mystique was gone. The major trophies had continued with a La Liga title at Real Madrid and a third Premier League in 2014-15 after returning to Chelsea. But now the bad – and the ugly – had become a prevailing part of the manager’s narrative.
To look at the picture of him poking a finger into the eye of Barcelona’s assistant coach Tito Vilanova in August 2011 is to see a man out of control. A man who then sanctioned his spokesperson Eladio Paramés to say: “José will not ask for forgiveness. He firmly believes he was defending the interests of Real Madrid.”
Yet there is a view that Mourinho is in the game only and always for himself. At United in July 2016 he began with an odd media conference in which his record of promoting young players was defended by a claim that 49 had been elevated to the first team during his career. To say the number was questionable is being polite and supporters will have taken note of his comment, on being announced as Spurs manager, that “the academy excites me”.
In that same briefing a barb was aimed at his predecessor, Louis van Gaal, when Mourinho stated there would be no hiding behind “philosophies”, a favoured term of the Dutchman. Yet what unfolded as his tenure entered a third season – always a difficult period for him – was the sight of Mourinho hiding behind the details on his stellar CV.
His “respect, respect, respect” tirade after United had been trounced 3-0 by Spurs in August 2018 signalled a discontent. During the same discourse Mourinho held up three fingers and explained this represented the number of English titles he had won, more “than the other 19 managers together”.
It all seemed a bit desperate and pointed to the deep fissure between Mourinho and Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, and the players. These are the two key dynamics at any football club: the manager and highest-ranking suit; the manager and his squad. How each unfolds at Tottenham will fascinate.
How the Portuguese handles his relationship with Daniel Levy, who is no yes man, will dictate 50% of the story of his success – or otherwise – in north London. The other half will be the tale of Mourinho and a group of talented footballers who have just got Pochettino sacked.
It is four and a half years since Mourinho last won the Premier League. At United he captured the League Cup and the Europa League in 2016-17. The latter came with Champions League qualification, however, so it signified a fine start, and he took United to second place the following May. Yet the team finished 19 points behind Manchester City and for Mourinho subsequently to cite this as one of his finest achievements is telling.
There a dig was aimed at Woodward for the squad he was working with, and also at the players, for being nowhere near the level of Pep Guardiola’s side. It illustrated how far Mourinho had fallen, from the swaggering Porto manager with the George Clooney looks and movie star ability to cast a spell over players and opposition alike.
In Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-min, Harry Winks, Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld, Ben Davies, Hugo Lloris, Lucas Moura, Eric Dier and Moussa Sissoko there is a squad at Spurs that is a far better starting point than Mourinho had at United.
What will this group be thinking about the new manager? Mourinho likes a totemic No 9 – think Didier Drogba and Romelu Lukaku – so Kane is sure to be the side’s focal point. But how will Mourinho instruct Eriksen, Alli, Winks et al to get the ball to him?
The football his United team produced was stodgy and unimaginative. If this was no surprise – Mourinho’s fare has always veered close to ugly – an eyebrow-raiser was Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s assessment that the squad he inherited was not fit enough. Tottenham’s vast improvement under Pochettino was founded on a rapid pressing game that requires running from first whistle to last so an eye should be kept on the distances players cover for Mourinho.
His opening match is Saturday’s derby at West Ham United, whose manager, Manuel Pellegrini, is another the Portuguese has clashed with.
This is the Mourinho way. In search of success for a Spurs team who have won nothing for 11 years, Levy’s calculation is this: that his new man’s trophy count is the good that far outweighs the bad and ugly he may have also just welcomed to the club.
We are about to find out whether Levy has made a smart call.
The Guardian Sport