The good, the bad and the ugly: José Mourinho’s appointment by Tottenham Hotspur means his managerial modus operandi is back in the Premier League.
Fans of Spurs and (some) players may mourn the sacking of Mauricio Pochettino and will look to their new No 1 and wonder which Mourinho has just walked through the door. Because this is the big question, the 100-tonne elephant in the room regarding Daniel Levy’s appointment: is Mourinho a spent force? Is he yesterday’s man whose scintillating peak came between 2002-10?
Highlights then included two consecutive Primeira Ligas, the Uefa Cup and Champions League for Porto; two consecutive Premier League crowns for Chelsea; and at Internazionale the historic treble of Serie A title, Champions League and Italian Cup (plus another scudetto).
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 Sir Alex Ferguson’s predominant Manchester United, who in May 2010 handed Internazionale a first European Cup since 1965.
Yet on taking over at Old Trafford six years after that triumph Mourinho’s mystique was gone. The major trophy conveyor belt had continued with one 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 Mourinho narrative.
To look at the image of him poking a finger in the eye of Barcelona’s assistant coach Tito Vilanova in August 2011 is to see a man out of control. A man who then okayed his spokesperson Eladio Parames to say: “José will not ask for forgiveness. He firmly believes he was defending the interests of Real Madrid.”
Yet there is a view in the game that Mourinho is out only and always for himself. At United, in July 2016, he began with an odd media conference in which his record regarding young players was defended by claiming 49 had been promoted from within clubs during his career. To say the number was questionable is being polite and supporters will have taken note of his mention, on being announced as Spurs manager, that “the academy excites me”.
In that same United unveiling a stiletto 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 year for him – was the sight of Mourinho hiding behind his stellar CV.
The “respect, respect, respect” tirade that came 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 his number of English championships, more “than the other 19 managers together”.
It all felt a bit desperate, while pointing to the deep fissure between Mourinho and Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, and his 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 Mourinho handles his relationship with Levy, who is no yes-man, will tell 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 footballers who have just got Pochettino sacked but who are certainly talented.
It is four years since Mourinho last won the Premier League. At United he delivered the League Cup and the Europa League of 2016-17. The latter came with Champions League qualification so this was 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 to subsequently cite this as one of his finest achievements is telling. Here a dig is given to Woodward, for the average squad he worked with, and also his players, for being nowhere near the level of Pep Guardiola’s champions. It also illustrates how far Mourinho has fallen from the swaggering manager with the George Clooney looks and movie star ability to cast a spell over players and opposition who first emerged at Porto.
In Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-ming, Harry Winks, Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld, Ben Davies, Hugo Lloris, Lucas Moura, Eric Dier and Moussa Sissoko there is a Spurs talent pool that is a far better starting point than Mourinho had at United.
But, 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 via which style will Mourinho instruct Eriksen, Ali, Winks et al to move the ball to him?
The fare his United team produced was stodgy and unimaginative. If this was no surprise – Mourinho’s football 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 distances covered under 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 trophies for a Tottenham team that have won nothing for 11 years Levy’s calculation is this: that his new man’s bulging résumé of trophies is the good that far outweighs the bad and ugly he may have just welcomed to the club.
We are about to find out whether Levy has made a smart call.