If things had worked out differently Lucas Moura would have played for José Mourinho at the beginning of his career. The Tottenham winger was close to joining Mourinho’s Real Madrid from São Paulo in the summer of 2012 only to opt for Paris Saint-Germain; he would complete his transfer there in January 2013.
Turning down Mourinho might not seem like such a good move, particularly when he later pitches up at your club; Mourinho was announced as the new Spurs manager last Wednesday, taking over from the sacked Mauricio Pochettino. But the reality is that the admiration has endured from Mourinho’s side and although these remain early days, Lucas has come to look like one of the winners from the managerial change.
Under Pochettino it was easy to see Lucas as the 12th man, the one to be squeezed out when everybody was fit – never more so than in the Champions League final against Liverpool in June. Lucas had scored the Roy of the Rovers-style hat-trick to sink Ajax in the semi-final second leg but it did not insulate him from being dropped for the showpiece.
Lucas has talked about that low point, with the headline detail being that Pochettino did not give him forewarning before he announced the lineup at the team hotel. Lucas has said that he needed to respect the decision, to be professional about it, although it must have been heartbreaking.
This season Pochettino started him in six of his 17 matches in all competitions – raising more questions about how he saw the 27-year-old or, indeed, where. Pochettino thought Lucas performed to his best as a central attacker rather than a pure winger.
Mourinho plainly disagrees. He has started Lucas on the right flank in both of his matches so far and enjoyed a dividend. Lucas scored in Saturday’s 3-2 Premier League win at West Ham and set up Harry Kane to make it 2-2 in Tuesday’s 4-2 Champions League victory over Olympiakos.
“Every player wants to play – it doesn’t matter the position,” Lucas said. “But everyone knows I am not a No 9; it is not my best position. When Pochettino put me there I always gave my best because for me the most important thing is the team but each coach has one opinion, a different mind. Now I feel very good in this position [on the wing]. I always played in this position. I feel good and I am happy.”
When things are going well for Mourinho it is often said that his genius lies in the simplicity. He is not a manager to shoehorn players into the lineup; to jam square pegs into round holes. At Spurs he is seeking to build from a 4-2-3-1 system, with two positional midfielders and pace on the wings.
It was the formation with which Pochettino produced arguably his best football at the club and Mourinho can see that it provides Dele Alli with a platform to roam from the No 10 role and get close to Kane – which is surely where he does the most damage.
Eric Dier in midfield rather than defence has been another feature of Mourinho’s opening games, even if he substituted him on 29 minutes against Olympiakos. Mourinho admitted that he got it wrong at the outset and he needed only one holding midfielder, not two. On came the more attack-minded Christian Eriksen to make a 4‑1‑4‑1 system.
It also feels as though Mourinho sees Moussa Sissoko as a right-sided midfielder, not a central one, albeit of a different style to Lucas. He has introduced Sissoko for Lucas against West Ham and Olympiakos.
“It is too early to speak about change but you can see a few changes he has made about positions, some players,” Lucas said. “Step by step we put his philosophy [on to the pitch]. He said we have everything to do our best, a very good structure and very good fans, and we just need to believe in it and be happy on the pitch. After, about tactics, you can see … It’s simple? Yeah, quite simple.
“I don’t need to speak about him because he is a winner, a champion. He has a lot of trophies and I am sure he has so much to bring for us. Everyone is optimistic with him and we believe in his job. Can he harden our mentality? Yes, I think so.”
Lucas went back to 2012 when his working life encountered a sliding doors moment. “Yeah, it’s true that when I was at São Paulo, my agent and parents had a conversation with him,” Lucas said. “In the last moment, PSG came in and I decided to go to Paris. I am happy he likes me. It is very important to me to have this confidence from the coach. I am happy for the opportunity he has given me.”
The Guardian Sport