I think we know enough about Jose Mourinho by now to understand his opinions about international football with regards to his Tottenham Hotspur players. Mou’s feelings about international breaks and his players’ participation with their national teams is almost diametrically opposed to what we became accustomed to with Mauricio Pochettino. He’s not quite hostile, but you absolutely can say that he’s not a fan of sending his players off to potentially get injured or knackered in meaningless friendlies or rando Nations League matches.
Mourinho slightly upped the ante in comments made today about Gareth Bale and the Wales international setup. For the first time since joining Spurs, Bale has been called up for Wales for a friendly against USA on November 12 and Nations League games vs. Ireland and Finland. Wales manager Ryan Giggs is not involved in these matches due to his arrest amidst allegations of domestic abuse, and the team will be managed by assistant coaches Robert Page and Albert Stuivenberg.
And it’s Stuivenberg that Mourinho has issues with, because he’s also an Arsenal assistant coach. For Mou, that’s a conflict of interest with regards to Bale’s health and fitness, and he was not shy about talking about it.
“Wales have two matches where they play for the Nations League and I expect [Bale] to play. But if they care as much about him as we do, they have to manage the recovery period, they have to manage the minutes that he plays. And they should not let him get to fatigue levels.
“It’s not Giggs responsible for these matches and I’m sorry about it, because for the previous fixtures he called me and we shared opinions [on Ben Davies], which is probably not going to happen this time. The fact that one of the coaches is an Arsenal coach does not make me very comfortable. Honestly, it doesn’t make me very comfortable. National team matches should have coaches that work exclusively for them, not coaches who work for other clubs.”
So this opinion is a little hilarious, considering that current Tottenham academy coach Chris Powell is part of England’s setup under Gareth Southgate, something pointed out by the Evening Standard. (It’s also a bit hilarious that he’s super concerned about Bale, but apparently less so about Ben Davies?) Mourinho’s opinion may not be wrong, but only if you think that assistant coaches who are part of both international and club setups simultaneously are not able to stay objective when it comes to their duties. It seems like a real stretch to me to make that kind of accusation, and I think it’s more likely that this is just Mourinho mind games.
However, the broader point is that Mourinho is quite obviously more protective about players’ participation in international matches, especially when it comes to players who are either just coming back from injury or who are still working their way to full fitness. That’s a big change from the full throated “go forth and play” attitude under Pochettino, who encouraged his players to play for their countries whenever possible.
I love international football tournaments, but I hate international breaks, especially in off-years ahead of major competitions and ESPECIALLY especially in the midst of global pandemics because of the possibility of not only injury but also COVID-19 transmission. I’m perfectly okay with him putting additional pressure on international managers to take additional precautions to avoid injuring Tottenham Hotspur players. Mourinho and I may have our differences, but on this point at least we share the same general view.