Tottenham Hotspur was absolutely radio silent on Friday, which shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Of course, the club was traveling back from Croatia after a Europa League match the previous night and that’s usually enough to preclude a ton of updates. However, when that same fixture was a humiliating 3-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb that crashed the club out of the competition, Spurs officials had even less reason to want to speak publicly.
It was an awful week for Spurs and especially for Jose Mourinho. The defeat in Zagreb came just days after another listless and embarrassing defeat in the North London Derby to Arsenal, and the combined effect of those two losses was to lose all of the momentum and good will Mourinho had built up in with Tottenham’s previous five match winning streak. Spurs now have just the League Cup final against a Manchester City side that looks nigh unbeatable right now, but first is a Premier League match at an Aston Villa side that could welcome Jack Grealish back to the starting XI on Sunday.
With Spurs not talking, it was left to the footballing media in the UK to fill the void. And boy did they. Multiple reports are out after the disaster in Zagreb that state that Mourinho’s job at Tottenham is now hanging by a thread, and while a sacking is unlikely before the end of the season, with morale at a nadir and rifts in the dressing room, even a League Cup title may not be enough to save his job at this point.
Writing in the Telegraph (£), Matt Law reiterated earlier reports of a huge divide in the Tottenham changing room over Mourinho and his tactics, with many losing confidence in Mourinho’s ability to get the most out of the team, but others steadfastly standing behind him. In the Times (£), Gary Jacob states that the minimum expectation is to qualify for European football next season, though even that may not be enough depending on final league position.
Both reports state that RB Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann is the “preferred candidate” to replace Mourinho if he is let go, though Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers is also among the candidates. And there’s more! Duncan Castles, a journalist with close ties to Mourinho, reported on his podcast that contrary to prior reporting there IS in fact a “break clause” in Mourinho’s contract at Spurs where the club can sack him this summer for less money.
“Contrary to what has been reported about there being no break clause, I’m told there is one in the contract, so the cost to dismiss [Mourinho] should [Daniel] Levy go down that route in the summer is less than the full remaining value on his contract.
“I think more importantly for Tottenham is the decision to me made about what to do — whether they choose to just change coach, or whether they decide that the squad needs an overhaul and needs some significant changes to achieve what Levy had targeted when Mourinho came into the club.”
What seems clear, at least for now, is that Mourinho will be given to the end of the season to save his job. That will be disappointing news for fans who would like to see the back of him immediately, and if results continue to go southwards then who knows — Levy may decide that it’s better to rip off the band-aid and go with an interim manager in the short term to give him time to heal the divisions within the squad.
“European football” being the metric for success is pretty vague — with the Europa League gone, with it went Tottenham’s best chance for qualifying for the Champions League next season. But Spurs could still finish fifth or sixth and qualify for Europa League next season with a string of good results. They’re only three points out of fifth place and the league table is especially volatile this season.
Could a League Cup trophy and a sixth place finish be enough to keep Mourinho around for another year? Maybe. But that starts with a result on Sunday against Villa, as the Premier League is the only thing now that can work in his favor. Now that the Europa League is done and dusted, Mourinho no longer has any margin for error.