Has Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho lost his magic managerial touch?

Callum Pragnell by Callum Pragnell / 05 March 2020, 16:33

When Jose Mourinho was hired by Chelsea back in June 2004, it became immediately apparent that he was about to shake things up in the Premier League. 

Having guided Porto to a remarkable Champions League triumph just months before - an achievement which sealed the Portuguese coach his first big move to Stamford Bridge - there was plenty of excitement surrounding a man who, unlike most professional football managers, had not played the game at a high level prior to entering the world of coaching. 

The Special One

Mourinho branded himself “The Special One” upon his unveiling at Chelsea. He lived up to that title and delivered instantly, though, securing back-to-back Premier League titles, the FA Cup and a couple of League Cups.

The Special One’s managerial career has taken him across Europe, where he has enjoyed further success in charge of the likes of Inter Milan and Real Madrid. 

Two Serie A titles, one La Liga title, one Copa del Rey triumph, one Coppa Italia, and a second Champions League trophy won with Inter in 2009-10, saw Mourinho hailed as the world’s best manager for years; he was rightfully deserving of that title. 

His return to Chelsea in 2013 may have been short-lived but in that time he did manage to propel the Blues back to the top of the Premier League, winning the title in 2014-15 after Manchester United and Manchester City had dominated the division since his initial exit from Stamford Bridge in 2007. 

It was clear that Mourinho’s unique special touch was still fully-functioning and that few other managers had the ability to do what he could do at the helm of a team. 

The Special One was still special. 

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Cracks in the managerial armour

Even his spell in charge of Man Utd yielded success, albeit to a lesser degree than what he had experienced before. 

A League Cup and Europa League double during Mourinho’s first season in charge of Old Trafford may have been ridiculed by fans of rival clubs who felt that they were both meaningless competitions, but ultimately he managed to obtain two credible trophies - alongside a second-place finish in the Premier League - with a club who were in the midst of complete turmoil.

In truth, though, Mourinho’s time at United seemed to have tarnished his reputation to a seemingly irreparable degree.

The fraught relationship between himself and the club’s famously toxic hierarchy didn’t help, and it always felt that he was facing a losing battle trying to win over the Red Devils’ supporter base - perhaps because he was a former Chelsea manager - and in the end, it was something that he was never able to achieve prior to his departure from Old Trafford in late-2018.

The Return

An 11-month break from the game would have brought with it an opportunity for Mourinho to reflect on everything and plot his next move. Indeed, when Tottenham dismissed Mauricio Pochettino and came calling in November, he was ready and eager to get back into the swing of things.

Spurs are a big club but they are not as gargantuan as Mourinho’s former employers; what they offered, though, was a chance for the Portuguese to rebuild himself, and prove that he is still worthy of his self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ title. 

Back in the capital and back in the Premier League, with pretty much a blank canvas to work with and a glistening new stadium to frequent, this move made sense for both manager and club.

Many believed that Mourinho’s famous winning mentality would be the thing to finally transform Tottenham from nearly men to successful achievers; that he would address the north London club’s stark defensive frailties and make them difficult to break down and nigh on impossible to defeat, just like he had done with Chelsea, Inter Milan and even Man Utd. 

Mourinho’s tactics have been mocked and branded as ‘boring’ for years but you cannot argue that they have been used to good effect a lot of the time.

However, so far it just hasn’t seemed to have worked. 

The move may have made sense from a practical standpoint, but it hasn’t ever really felt right. Seeing Mourinho in a Tottenham tracksuit has not got any less peculiar despite him being over three months into the job at hand and, sporting somewhat of a bizarre new skinhead appearance, the 57-year-old now seems completely unrecognisable when you compare him to the swanky Mourinho of old. 

The Positives

Since he took over at Spurs there have been positives. 

Mourinho won his first three games in charge of the north Londoners and appeared to give a struggling Dele Alli a new lease of life; the England international had scored just twice before Jose’s appointment but has since added six goals and four assists to his haul in all competitions since November 23rd. 

Tottenham have also beaten Man City in the Premier League and before Christmas qualified for the Champions League’s last-16 (helped massively by the weakness of their group, it must be said). 

Mourinho’s side are still in with a chance of making it through to the quarter-finals of the competition for the second consecutive season, should they manage to overturn a one-goal deficit in their second-leg clash against RB Leipzig next Tuesday.

The Lilywhites are also just five points shy of the Premier League’s top-four with still 10 games left to play. Though it will be somewhat of an ask for them to break into the elusive Champions League spaces from now until the end of the campaign - especially given their sizable injury list - all hope is not lost. 

Harry Kane’s return from injury is scheduled for next month which will give Spurs a significant boost, but it does not alter the fact that, overall, they have just not been good enough in recent months.

The Negatives

Defensively, Tottenham have been atrocious. 

The main reason Mourinho was drafted in was to shore things up at the back and make them hard to break down, but since his appointment they have only managed to keep three clean sheets in 24 games (in all competitions). 

Spurs were humiliated in the EFL Cup back in September under the guidance of Pochettino, knocked out by League Two side Colchester United, and now they can add the FA Cup to their list of casualties following their penalty shootout defeat to Premier League basement-dwellers Norwich City on Wednesday evening. 

The FA Cup was the perfect opportunity for Mourinho to glue some much needed paper over ever-worsening cracks in north London; everyone knows that it is now a second-rate competition but it is still a trophy and a day out for the fans if you are able to reach the final. 

Considering Spurs haven’t won any form of silverware since their League Cup final win over Chelsea in 2008, it would have been thoroughly welcomed by the club’s supporters. Alas, after a tired performance against a spirited Canaries side, who themselves have much more pressing engagements to contend with, Tottenham’s FA Cup dream is now firmly dead in the water.

The Future

The best that Mourinho and Tottenham can hope for is obtaining a top-four finish, and that will certainly not come easily. Injuries to key players have played a huge factor in the club’s recent form and cannot be helped - football is a cruel sport that cares not for timing or circumstance - but Spurs can’t use that as an excuse, it’s tough but it happens.

Ultimately they have just not been good enough, not strong enough as a unit, and definitely not resilient enough in defence. Daniel Levy would have hoped that Mourinho would have came in and completely Mourinho’d things up in N17 - the trouble is, it appears that the 57-year-old has forgotten how to do it, or may just simply be incapable of returning to his former pre-United state.

To suggest that Mourinho has completely lost his touch is a cheap and slightly insulting throwaway argument. 

There is no doubting that he is not the same manager who burst onto the scene at Stamford Bridge in the early-noughties with all of his cards spread across the table, donning a refreshing swagger, oozing self-confidence and class. 

He’s been up against it since 2017, in truth. United tested him to his wits end and looked as if they almost broke him from the outside looking in. The Tottenham job was never going to be easy and he will have time to put things right but it will take just that - time. 

Mourinho has lost part of his touch, that is undeniable. But if history has taught us anything about the Special One, it’s that he really is special, and he won’t give up until he’s back to his very best.

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