Every Tottenham fan retells their version of events the night Mauricio Pochettino was sacked almost as if a family member had suddenly passed. I for one was cooking in my University kitchen when a group-chat notification popped up on my phone screen reading “Poch’s gone”. I simply raised an eyebrow. Immediately my mind thought my friend was referring to something obscure – a meme? “Poch’s gone” to the shops? A typo?
I nonchalantly unlocked my phone only for a sudden flood of notifications from various Tottenham media hubs I follow to send my phone into a frenzy. As each notification banner appeared at the top of my phone, the words kept jumping out at me. “Poch” and “Sacked” and “Left” and “Gone”. I went from a small raised brow, to a wide-eyed deer in the headlights. I am not ashamed to say I felt a lump in my throat.
Like most Spurs fans I was in genuine disbelief. The news came during the late evening, just after a long international break, with a matter of days until our next domestic fixture. What has Levy done? Does he not understand the connection the fans and players have to this man? Has he forgotten that five months ago this man led us to a Champions League final? Has he forgotten how sought after this man is by some of the biggest clubs in the world? If he is good enough for Madrid, Bayern, and PSG, then surely Levy can look past this downturn in form and simply back him and his project more fully?
Amongst the above questions asked by most Spurs fans, reactionary statements were made. “This is a mistake”. “Levy will regret this”. This is not only the end of Poch’s era, but the end of this Spurs era. Kane is going to leave in the summer. Son is going to leave in the summer. What a dogmatic oversight by Levy.
For the remainder of that night, Tottenham fans were frenzying on social media. Who could possibly succeed Pochettino?
The next morning Tottenham fans woke up to an unfamiliar face in their bed. Jose Mourinho’s head was laid on the pillow facing us. Eyes glinting, face glowing, smile wide.
Although opinions were understandably split at first due firstly to Mourinho’s controversial nature, secondly due to his past appointments (mainly Chelsea), and thirdly due to the emotional hangover from Pochettino’s surprise dismissal – Pochettino didn’t even have time to say goodbye to the players. That’s how quickly everything changed.
However, as the day went on, reality struck a large percentage of Tottenham fans. Jose Mourinho is one of the best managers in the world. Since managing Porto, this man has never not won silverware in any managerial appointment. In his most recent appointment, this man took a poor Manchester United side to a Europa League Title and second place domestic finish. He has managed 909 games, won 589, drawn 186, lost 134 – a 64.8% win percentage. He has a clean sheet percentage of 48% in the Premier League (146 out of 304 matches).
Consistent wins. Consistent clean sheets. Consistent trophies. The U-turn from Tottenham fans is somewhat understandable. Especially given how motivated Jose seems after his 11-month spell without a club. He has come back with a renewed drive and admits that he has been honest and self-critical in that time, ironing out his approaches. Could this be a turning point for Tottenham? Jose Mourinho surely wouldn’t have taken this job unless he felt he could keep up his astonishing records.
All Aboard the Bus
A lot of football fans criticise Mourinho’s footballing style, accusing him of taking the beauty out of the game with boring defensively-orientated tactics. Without dressing it up, everyone thinks Mourinho parks the bus in every game.
As much as this was somewhat true of his time at Manchester United there are two main takeaways. Firstly, he took on a United team which was simply, not very good and which had the pressure of an expectant fan base looming permanently over it. Secondly, he managed to finish second in the league with this squad, win the Europa League, and win the League Cup. Quite frankly, his tactics work.
However, counteracting this belief that Tottenham will now place a brick wall in front of their goal is the fact that Jose has stolen Joao Sacramento off of Lille’s coaching staff to be his assistant, changing away from the fiery character of Rui Faria he usually appoints. This is significant because Sacramento is known for coaching an attacking game, making use of wide players, and lightning quick counter attacks – a beneficiary of his tactics ironically being Nicholas Pepe whose brilliant scoring record in this style secured him his move to Arsenal. I hope that the Mourinho and Sacramento tactical cocktail will be a perfect balance for Tottenham. Making use of our brilliant attacking players whilst tightening up the defence.
There has been a lot of talk regarding Eric Dier and Dele Alli in recent days. There is a belief that Mourinho admires Dier, which makes sense not only because of his love for a defensive midfielder with a presence, but also because Dier was developed in the Sporting Lisbon academy. Mourinho possibly feels he can develop Dier through this Portuguese footballing connection.
As for Alli, there has been short clips and quotes being thrown around in the media which all suggest that Mourinho has his eye on the out-of-form player. He was asked what was said in a filmed exchange between the two of them, where some playful banter on the training ground led to a hug. He said he asked him “Are you Dele or Dele’s brother?” to which Alli replied “I’m Dele”. Mourinho’s response “Play like Dele”.
This kind of man management is something which Mourinho has left a trail of as a manager, with many ex-players revealing how motivated they were to play for him and how they felt they would die for one-another. Could we also see Mourinho turning the heads of the contract miscreants like Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen, Danny Rose and Jan Vertonghen? If they felt training was becoming stale, they were not winning anything, and at the peak of their careers they wanted to play under a successful manager elsewhere, surely now they will be thinking twice.
If Mourinho can instil the belief he has in the squad (which he has displayed for a number of years in fact), and convey respectfully that he wouldn’t have taken the job if he didn’t think he could achieve success with this group of players, then I would not be surprised if one or more of these miscreants signed a new contract.
With Mourinho’s first fixture in charge looming I will not attempt to predict the line-up or preview the match as there is a relative amount of uncertainty, bred from a mixture of the new appointment and unknown changes in dynamics, the international break, and various injuries. What is certain is that Mourinho will want to continue his record of never losing his opening game in charge of a side and three points away at West Ham would be a huge first step for us as a club in this new era, given our diabolical away form and how much West Ham love to beat us on this day. I can be sure that West Ham will do everything today within their power to uproot their own poor form and make life difficult for us at the London Stadium, just to spite us. And what I fear most, is that Michail Antonio is fit and ready for selection.
Lastly, I will sign this piece of with a statement which has been popping up on social media in the past day or two. It portrays the reality which most Tottenham fans have had to face since Pochettino’s sacking, and the thinking that we have all done since Mourinho’s appointment:
“Pochettino taught us to Dare, Mourinho will teach us to Do.”