Back in the halcyon days of September, when Spurs were underachieving and the idea of Mauricio Pochettino being fired was only being tossed around ironically in the context of Cartilage Free Captain’s Slack channel, I opined half-jokingly that I’d consider quitting as Managing Editor of Carty Free if Spurs hired José Mourinho.
Even yesterday in the immediate aftermath of Pochettino’s surprise sacking, I tweeted a hot-take (but ironically sincere) opinion about the possibility of Mourinho wearing a cock-on-ball crest, stalking the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium sidelines.
I swear to god I will burn this club to the ground if they hire Mourinho— Dustin #MourinhoOUT (@dustingm) November 19, 2019
I regret that tweet now, not least because in this hyper-partisan age it’s the kind of thing that could potentially be perceived as a real threat and get me suspended from Twitter. I’m also not resigning from the blog. But while the sentiment was bombastic and over the top, it was also entirely heartfelt — I don’t like José Mourinho and he would almost literally be the last manager I’d choose to succeed Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs.
In many ways, Mourinho represents the complete opposite of everything Pochettino brought to Tottenham. Poch was a builder, a project guy — there to build a culture from the ground up and establish the foundations on which future success could grow. Mourinho is a journeyman, a win-now-at-all-costs manager who swoops from opportunity to opportunity.
Pochettino loves developing young players, finding talent from the club’s academy that he can nurture and turn into nascent, hungry superstars-in-waiting. Mourinho would rather spend millions to import an older, proven talent and is content to leave young players on the bench or in the reserves.
Poch is a warm and kind person to those under his charge, always willing to put an arm around a shoulder and always, ALWAYS standing in front of his players and defending them in the media, even when it’s obvious that they are open to criticism or have done something wrong. Mourinho is notoriously prickly, quick to throw players and even members of his own staff under the bus when things aren’t going well, and has a tendency to lose dressing rooms as quickly as he gains them.
Poch is an authoritative manager with a clear plan, one who demands an almost cult-like following and buy-in from his team in order to succeed, which as we now know can backfire without significant and periodic turnover. Mourinho... well, maybe Mauricio and José are more alike in that way than unalike, to be fair.
But make no mistake — the sacking of Pochettino and the hiring of Mourinho represents a substantial — almost seismic — shift in the way Daniel Levy is approaching the management of this club. With this appointment, Levy is saying that Tottenham Hotspur is no longer a project. The stadium is built. The money is there. Spurs are no longer on the outside of the “Big Four” looking in, they have now ascended and are an established part of the “Sky Six,” financially on par (or nearly) with the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea.
And hiring José Mourinho is apparently what big clubs do.
I’ve been a Spurs fan since 2007. My first real season was the notorious two-points-in-eight-matches debacle that epitomized Juande Ramos’ short stint in charge. I’m not alone here by any means, but I’ve SEEN some stuff, and I’m still here (despite a nascent and unfortunate flirtation with Hull City when it looked like Spurs were headed for the drop under Ramos). The past five years under Pochettino have been the best years I’ve witnessed as a football supporter.
Poch took a team of outsiders and kicked down the door to Champions League qualification, playing swashbuckling and attractive football behind a core of young English talent. He took Spurs to a damn Champions League final, even after 18 months with no signings and nearly as many outgoings, and as he knew things were crumbling around him. Was he perfect? Of course not. He could be maddeningly stubborn at times, dogmatic in his methods, obtuse with his substitutions, the Beloved Leader of the Tottenham Cult.
But the results were undeniable.
Now we have José Mourinho in charge, a man who wins things. I have no doubt that he will win things at Tottenham Hotspur. If there was ever a manager who has the pedigree to bring Spurs that long-denied trophy for the cabinet, it’s him.
But he also is a manager with a notable history and pattern of self-destruction, often within three years of an appointment at a club, leaving behind a smoking crater where the dressing room used to be. We’ve seen it at Manchester United, and at Chelsea, twice. His departure from Real Madrid wasn’t as explosive, but it was acrimonious. Mourinho will drag this fractured Tottenham team up out of the basement into respectability or better, and then everyone will get sick of him, the players will revolt, and he’ll get sacked (for a lot of money). It’ll happen. Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.
The football he is known for is not the “Spurs way.” Under Mourinho, expect Spurs to shore up the back line, playing a defensive low block and playing on the counter. That will likely be an improvement over the current iteration of Spurs, but it’s not always exciting. Sometimes, it’s perfectly dreadful to watch. But it does get results — if you like 1-0 wins, you’ll love the Mourinho era at Tottenham Hotspur. Mourinho will quite possibly scowl his way to silverware for Spurs at some point, but his approach takes the most cynical approach to “the game is about glory” imaginable.
And that’s not the only reason why I can’t countenance it. Yes, he wins. But football under Jose Mourinho always ends up being more about Mourinho than it is about the club he’s managing. Mourinho has used every step along his managerial journey as a stepping stone to whatever comes next. He’s irascible, vindictive, and a jerk. He’ll always make sure that he comes first, and he rarely lets things go.
The way he treated physio Eva Carneiro while at Chelsea — calling the only female physio in the Premier League “the daughter of a whore” and getting her fired for simply doing her job — is to my mind unforgivable, something that should be an automatic disqualifying factor for any club position. We perhaps should not be shocked that this was not a factor in Mourinho’s hiring — the signings of Serge Aurier and Lucas Moura in recent years should probably disavow us of any pretense that the club truly gives more than superficial lip service to modern cultural ideals — but it’s extremely disheartening to see it happen again.
Nor is my anger at this appointment limited strictly to Mourinho. I’m mad at Daniel Levy, too. I’m upset at how Levy failed to back Pochettino in 2017-18 by not signing any players, and for not coming through on Pochettino’s requested “painful rebuild.” I’m mad that Levy decided to pull the trigger on his departure now, without giving Pochettino the time or opportunity to fix things. And yes, I understand that this may have been as much Poch’s decision as it was Levy’s but I’m still not happy with how everything went down.
But more than that, I’m upset that this is the direction that Levy wants to take the club. Unless he has changed his tune in his negotiations with Levy, Mourinho almost always demands full control of player transfers and a large kitty with which to purchase players. In order to be successful he requires free reign at the club, and he’s already reportedly making £15m/year, well above any of his players. If Levy opens the checkbook now I would find it unfathomable that he would do so for José and not for Mauricio.
And I’m upset because I can already see where this is going. Spurs will probably have a brief happy time under a grumpy manager, but things will invariably fall apart. They always do. Players will be marginalized, likely popular ones. Results will fall away behind anemic, boring football. I can’t see a scenario where Mourinho lasts the full tenure of his 3.5 year contract, and then Spurs will once again be forced to pay a substantial severance fee to get rid of a manager that they no longer believe in.
I’m a Tottenham fan. I’ll always be one. I’m not walking away from the club — I can’t do that, and not just because it’s my job to write about it. I also don’t want to close the door to being proven wrong. Perhaps José Mourinho is the perfect man to take Tottenham to the next level. If Pochettino completed his project, then maybe this is the next logical step, to become Chelsea, or Arsenal, or Liverpool — a big-money club that pays for big-money managers and big-money talent.
So while I’m not happy with this appointment, I’m leaving myself open to having my mind changed. But I’ll be honest, Mourinho and Levy have a lot of work to do to win me over. It’s not impossible, but José will need to do things differently this time around — not only win football matches, but change the way he approaches the game and his interactions with others. It’s not impossible, but I’m not optimistic that I’ll see it happen.
Tottenham Hotspur has had its foundation rocked and a new era has begun at the club. José Mourinho’s Tottenham will look very different to Mauricio Pochettino’s, and newer fans who are only used to what Poch brought to the club will probably find themselves shocked, possibly a little appalled at what is happening at the club. People are already angry. I’m angry. I will begin the Mourinho Era by utterly supporting the club, but not the manager, and that’s not a fun place to be.
Mourinho needs to win fans like me over or his tenure will be short and unpleasant. That important work begins today. I hope he succeeds. Be a champion, José. Change my mind.