Dare Spurs Admit Their Mourinho Mistake?


When Mauricio Pocchetino was fired as manager of Tottenham Hotspur in November 2019, it was a shock. Spurs were performing under-par in the league, but the Argentine had taken the club to the final of the Champions League the previous season. Results may not have been acceptable, but many observers felt that the experienced coach had earned the chance to stick around and correct the club’s course. He wasn’t given that chance. He was thrown out on his ear, and the always-controversial Jose Mourinho was brought in to replace him just 24 hours later. It was hard to escape the feeling that the swift replacement was an insult to Pochettino, and the installation of Mourinho a gamble.

Gambling might even be the perfect metaphor for Mourinho. He’s the highest-profile manager Spurs have had during the Premier League era, but also the least in-demand that he’s been at any point during his career. There’s almost no chance Mourinho of five years ago would join Spurs. Successive failures at Chelsea and Manchester United have damaged his stock to the point that the traditional ‘big’ European clubs don’t appear to want him.

To fill his time between jobs, Mourinho was, forced, for the first time in his life, to turn to punditry and appearing in adverts for a well-known gambling company. Mourinho invites viewers of those adverts to bet on sports. In terms of his own prospects, he might as well be inviting them to an online slots website instead. The once-reliable Portuguese has become combustible and unpredictable in recent years, displaying all the volatility of a top Playson games but very few signs of the rewards those slots often bring. You can usually guarantee that if you stick it out with a volatile online slots game for long enough, you’ll win something. With Mourinho that guarantee appears to have vanished, and never has that been more evident than within the past few days.

At the start of July, Spurs were beaten 3-1 by a Sheffield United side that had struggled since the restart. They looked jaded, listless, and devoid of ideas. That’s despite the fact that the majority of their players are now fit and healthy, and the excuses Mourinho used for the side’s poor performance pre-break no longer apply. A few days later, the club labored to an excruciating 1-0 victory over a solidly mid-table Everton side who have nothing left to play for this season. During that match, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and striker Heung-min Son had to be pulled apart by teammates after almost coming to blows. Rather than being appalled, Mourinho thought the moment was ‘beautiful.’ If he genuinely meant that, it’s a damning statement. Here is a side that, just a year ago, looked like genuine contenders for top honors. Today they’re scraping wins against mid-table teams to consolidate their own mid-table position and fighting each other on the pitch, and their manager seemingly approves.

This isn’t the only puzzling statement Mourinho has made in recent days. His former club Manchester United has been transformed since the arrival of Bruno Fernandes, embarking on a long undefeated run and putting themselves firmly back into contention for Premier League football next season. Last summer, Spurs narrowly missed out on signing Fernandes themselves after they and his former club Sporting Lisbon couldn’t negotiate an agreeable fee. According to Mourinho, this was fine because he’d rather have Giovani Lo Celso. Nobody disputes that Lo Celso is improving, and has potential. He is not, however, Bruno Fernandes. To most observers, he doesn’t appear to be in the same league as Bruno Fernandes.

To make one of those statements would be strange, but mostly insignificant. To make both of them so close together suggests that the once-great manager is losing his grip on reality. If he genuinely believes that inter-team fighting is ‘beautiful’ and a developing Lo Celso is a better prospect than Bruno Fernandes, questions must be asked over his broader judgment. Questions were already being asked several months ago when he publicly lambasted record signing Tanguy Ndombele for a perceived poor performance against Burnley, and they’ll be asked more frequently now. Spurs fans are becoming frustrated with what they see on and off the pitch from the club – and they have every reason to be.

Pochettino was fired because Daniel Levy and the rest of the Spurs board were worried that the club was moving backward, and the Argentine couldn’t put them back into contention for domestic or European trophies. Mourinho was brought in as an antidote to that problem. He was supposed to lead a charge back up the table and demonstrate that he could get he side over the line in Europe. He’s failed on both of those fronts. Mourinho has been in charge of far more games this season than his predecessor was. Results haven’t improved during that time. If anything, they’ve got worse. Based on what we saw against Everton, harmony within the team hasn’t improved during that time either. Once again, there are whispers that Harry Kane will leave the club soon and go looking for a team that he’s more likely to win medals with. This time, it’s far easier to understand him, and it’s likely to be much harder to convince him that his ambitions can be met by remaining with the club.

Levy has shown in the past that he’s unafraid of making bold calls, and stepping in when action needs to be taken. He might be required to show that resolve now more than ever. Appointing Mourinho was a Levy call, and dismissing him so early in his reign would reflect poorly on Levy as well as Mourinho – but for the long term good of the club, it might be necessary. Nothing that happened during Mourinho’s final season at Manchester United suggests that the coach still has what it takes to compete at the top level of the game, and nothing that’s happened during his first season with Spurs has given that impression either. Leaving him in charge for another season has the potential to be disastrous, especially when alternatives are available. After all, there’s a well-thought-of Argentinian coach who’s still looking for a job.