Jose Mourinho faces a defining moment in his career and his toughest challenge to date in getting Tottenham back on top and winning trophies… failure this season would mean his time as an elite manager is over
- Jose Mourinho faces a defining challenge to get Spurs back on top in 2020-21
- He inherited problems when he took over at Tottenham and has fixed some
- However, major issues remain that the club don’t have the money or time to fix
- Spurs face much-strengthened rivals and a packed fixture list this season
- There has been a lack of high-profile arrivals in north London compared to rivals
There is a moment in Amazon’s ‘All or Nothing’ documentary about Tottenham where Jose Mourinho ponders his arrival at the club.
‘It is only the second time I arrive at a club midway through the season,’ he says. ‘and it always means the club has problems’.
Spurs did indeed have plenty of problems. In many ways, Jose Mourinho walked into an impossible situation in north London. He inherited a team made in the image of his predecessor, Mauricio Pochettino, but one that had gaping holes and had gone stale after more than five years of near-success under the Argentinian.
Jose Mourinho faces a defining season in his managerial career with Tottenham this year
The ‘Special One’ had some early success but faces major challenges in the 2020-21 season
He replaced Mauricio Pochettino, who was sacked following a run of poor results this year
*Knocked out of the Champions League by RB Leipzig in the last 16
*Knocked out of the FA Cup by Norwich in the 5th round
The defence was leaky. Key men were running out their contracts. They were in 14th after an ‘extremely disappointing’ run of results that led to Pochettino’s departure. The man himself warned that a ‘painful’ rebuild would be on the cards following the Champions League final defeat against Liverpool. Pochettino just didn’t envisage that he wouldn’t be around to oversee it.
Mourinho has done some of the groundwork since then. The futures of Christian Eriksen, Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen have been resolved one way or another. Only seven league goals were conceded post-Premier League resumption as Spurs clambered their way up to sixth via heartening wins against West Ham, Arsenal and Leicester.
But there were also plenty of red flags, before and after lockdown. A meek 2-0 defeat against Chelsea in December. A painfully drab goalless draw against soon-to-be relegated Bournemouth in July. A lesson in how much work is required during defeats against RB Leipzig in the Champions League in February and March.
Seven weeks on from the last game of the season, a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace, and Mourinho is at a crossroads moment in his career.
During lockdown, L’Equipe compiled a list of the best managers in the world. Adorning the front page were Zinedine Zidane, Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. Mourinho was nowhere to be seen.
French newspaper L’Equipe left Mourinho out of their list of top rated managers in the game
‘[Mourinho] is still brilliant in press conference, still boring in the game, but seeming a million miles from his former glory,’ they claimed.
That will be put to the test this season. There is a case to be made that the top six, let alone top four, will be tougher than ever before this time around. Chelsea have invested more than £200million in the transfer market on some of Europe’s best young talent.
Manchester United can claim to have the most complete midfield in the Premier League after the arrival of Donny Van de Beek from Ajax, and the arrival of some additional fire power could push them over the top.
Mourinho made it clear in Amazon’s ‘All or Nothing’ series that he wants to harden up his team
Sheffield United, Leicester and Wolves will be strong once more and Everton have splashed the cash under Carlo Ancelotti. Arsenal showed signs of an identity developing under Mikel Arteta in the Community Shield and further defensive reinforcements since then will only help.
One key theme of the early Mourinho era, expressed publicly and privately, is his concerns over a lack of mental toughness among his squad. Famously, in All or Nothing, Mourinho urged his players to be a group of ‘c****’. The signing of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from Southampton is a step towards resolving that issue.
‘He has attributes that we’ve been missing,’ said Eric Dier before England’s bore draw against Denmark.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s arrival is designed to add steel and character to Mourinho’s team
Wolves’ Matt Doherty solves a problem position for Spurs on the right-hand side of defence
‘He’s very professional, he has a fantastic attitude and work rate and I think he brings leadership qualities as well. He speaks a lot on the pitch, he pushes his teammates and he demands things from his teammates. In the way that he plays, he’s quite combative and aggressive and brings more fight to the midfield, which is good for us.’
SPURS’ 20/21 TRANSFER DEALINGS
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Southampton, £15million)
Matt Doherty (Wolves, £15million)
Joe Hart (Free transfer)
Kyle Walker-Peters (Southampton, £12million)
Jan Vertonghen (Benfica, free transfer)
Oliver Skipp (Norwich, Loan)
Michel Vorm (Released)
Is that enough to go toe to toe with the best of the Premier League? Probably not. Matt Doherty’s arrival from Wolves solves a problem position and hints at a continuation of a more exciting counter-attack style that gave fans a glimmer of hope last season.
But still, there is no direct back up for Harry Kane. The club do not have the money or time, especially given how hard they have been hit by coronavirus, to surround him with world class players like their rivals can, either.
There’s no resolution in sight over the future of Tanguy Ndombele, a player so painfully talented that he could walk into most first teams but sadly without the attitude to match. Mourinho wants to stamp his authority on his new squad and it is no surprise that he has picked the club’s record signing to make an example of. Getting the Frenchman to reach his full potential would go a long way to bridging the seven-point gap that left Spurs short of the top four last season.
Lucas Moura played 35 times in the Premier League but only scored four times, and just twice in all competitions so far in 2020. Erik Lamela, game and enthusiastic, struggles to keep fit and perform consistently enough to shake off his ‘flashy’ tag. Ben Davis is solid enough but Ryan Sessegnon is desperately needed to kick on and get Spurs’ full-backs flying again.
Harry Kane is key to Tottenham’s fortunes, but still Spurs do not have a back up for him
Then there is a the eye-watering fixture list. Including the season opener against Everton, they play five times in 13 days thanks to Europa League qualification and the Carabao Cup.
Mourinho has quality at his disposal, especially in attacking areas with Kane, Son Heung-min and Dele Alli. Giovanni Lo Celso can become an elite Premier League midfielder and the emergence of Japhet Tanganga means centre-back looks well covered, even with Vertonghen walking away.
But there is a fear that Tottenham’s squad doesn’t have the strength in depth it needs to compete in the Premier League as well as in Europe, while aiming for the trophy so many people believe they desperately need to move forward – be that the Europa League or domestic cup competitions.
So Mourinho faces a truly defining season, perhaps the most difficult of his career. Felling Barcelona at the top of La Liga was career defining, but he did so with Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and a cast of world class players at his disposal. His achievements with Inter Milan are legendary but the type of challenge at Spurs is completely different altogether.
Mourinho can rely on some impressive attacking talent, including Son Heung-min
Doherty’s arrival in all likelihood spells the end of Serge Aurier’s time at Tottenham
Can he take an underdog and overcome their shortfalls with tactical nous? Can he remould the identity of a team to break the glass ceiling and become serial winners? Is he still a serial winner?
A failed season, or at least one that does not indicate progress is being made in those areas will mean the writing is on the wall and Mourinho’s time at the top – or near the top – is over. There were hints from his opening salvo at Spurs that Mourinho’s tenure could still go either way.
In ‘All or Nothing’ Daniel Levy can barely contain his excitement at landing what he describes as ‘one of two world class managers’ that there are in the world.
Levy took the decision not only to bring in a manager many seem to believe is on the decline, but to hand him £15million a year for the privilege. One way or another, that will be a defining decision of Spurs’ modern history.
Daniel Levy was delighted to land Mourinho as his new manager and handed him £15m a year
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