Mourinho’s time at Spurs saw Gareth Bale return to the club on loan from Real Madrid
Tottenham Hotspur’s decision to sack Jose Mourinho is a shock when measured by its timing – but hardly a surprise when judged by the direction of travel of his tenure.
Spurs announced Mourinho’s dismissal while under an avalanche of criticism for the club’s move to join the proposed new European Super League but, of more immediate significance, it comes only six days before they face Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley.
It is a bold strategy when Mourinho has guided Spurs to within one game of their first major honour since they won this competition since 2008, but the graph has been heading on a downward curve for some time.
When Spurs sacked the hugely popular Mauricio Pochettino in November 2019, only six months after he took them to a Champions League final where they lost 2-0 to Liverpool, Mourinho was seen as the hard-nosed pragmatist with a track record of success who would succeed in one area where his predecessor had failed.
Namely, he would win trophies. It has not happened.
Mourinho and chairman Daniel Levy will never know if this would have been the case as the Portuguese has been unceremoniously jettisoned before he gets the chance to prove it on Sunday.
Regardless, the Spurs motto is “To Dare Is To Do” – Mourinho leaves having done very little daring or doing in his 17 months at the club.
Spurs fans, in the main, reluctantly swallowed Mourinho’s arrival in succession to Pochettino based on his past successes at clubs such as Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, another spell at Chelsea and then at Manchester United.
Even though he is generally regarded as a failure at Old Trafford, he still won the EFL Cup and the Europa League in his first season.
Mourinho’s time at Old Trafford ended ignominiously, however, amid dressing room discontent, the manager’s downbeat demeanour a constant backdrop to poor results and dull football, the end coming after a dismal 3-1 defeat at Liverpool in December 2018.
Spurs were trusting in Mourinho discovering his old powers and their supporters being willing to accept a slightly less exciting brand of football than they had witnessed under Pochettino in exchange for tangible success.
It seemed a risky, somewhat uncomfortable fit at the time and Levy’s parting words that “things have not worked out as we both envisaged” carried heavy understatement.
Mourinho faced a battle to win the hearts and minds of Spurs supporters, many of whom believed Pochettino should have received greater backing from the club’s hierarchy rather than the sack.
And, even in the Covid-19 pandemic era of empty stadia for more than a year, it is a fight Mourinho failed to win, never getting anywhere near the adoration, success or style of his predecessor, even though Spurs had dropped to 14th place in the Premier League when Pochettino was sacked.
Mourinho’s highlights reel at Spurs would be very sparse, his work in guiding them up to sixth place at the end of his first season overshadowed by the failure to reach the Champions League and an emphatic exit in that competition as they lost both legs to go out 4-0 on aggregate to RB Leipzig in the last 16.
Spurs sparked briefly this season, albeit with more substance than style, and went top of the table in November after a typical display of Mourinho efficiency and tactical expertise saw them beat Manchester City 2-0.
Too cautious and negative?
There has not been much to celebrate since as they were knocked out of the FA Cup when they lost 5-4 at Everton then suffered a humiliating exit in the Europa League, which was shaping up as their best chance of Champions League football, conceding a 2-0 first-leg advantage to lose 3-0 to Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia.
Mourinho’s stock has fallen and there are familiar questions about his methods and failure to move with the times tactically, as Spurs produced a damaging and sterile series of performances against their closest rivals when losing at home to Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United as well as in the north London derby to Arsenal.
There was a thread of cautious, negative football running through so many games – a fatal combination when it cannot be backed up with good results.
Mourinho will point to statistics that show he has picked up the fourth highest number of points in the Premier League since his appointment, but his 10 defeats in the competition this season marks the worst of his career.
The cautious approach he adopted is also reflected in Spurs’ inability to defend a lead under Mourinho. Only Brighton (31) and Southampton (30) lost more points from winning positions than Spurs, who shipped 27, in his time at the club.