It’s fair to say that Serge Aurier’s relationship with Tottenham Hotspur, its coaching staff, and its fans has been... well, let’s just call it rocky. The Ivory Coast international, now at Villarreal and preparing for a Champions League semifinal matchup against Liverpool on Wednesday, gave a refreshingly candid interview with Dani Gil for the Daily Telegraph (£), his first major interview with the English media since he had his Tottenham contract mutually terminated last August.
In that interview, Aurier gives a glimpse into the locker room in the final months of the Jose Mourinho era at Tottenham, confirming that there were serious issues between the coaching staff and the players, but insisting that Aurier’s own issues were less with Mourinho and more with his top assistant, Joao Sacramento.
“Football is different compared to 10 years ago. [Mourinho] is still a great coach, but there are things that have evolved. Sometimes players need more love and attention. I’m not speaking for José, I’m speaking for his assistant. Joao is a tough guy and he didn’t have a good relationship with the dressing room, that’s why everything deteriorated. There was a lack of good communication.
“It was one of [Sacramento’s] first experiences in a first team and he lacked calm with the players. He needed to be more concerned about the person behind the player. Sometimes when you don’t play a lot of s— goes through your head, and you need someone to calm you down and help you, to give you good vibes, not to send you negative messages. And I think it all started there.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about Sacramento not gelling well with Tottenham’s players. Sacramento’s name came up in a number of journalist-written post mortems of the Mourinho era as someone who was not able to connect with the players in the way that was needed to get the most out of them. However, this is the first time we’ve heard a player come out and say it directly.
Interestingly, while Aurier says he didn’t have too many negative feelings towards Mourinho himself, it’s pretty clear from his comments that things were not great at Spurs towards the end. Aurier’s comments are not an attempt to redeem Mourinho but more a reflection of his personal feelings about him, day to day frustrations aside.
“One day we argued, but it was over a tactical issue. I wasn’t happy with his decisions and I went to talk to his office. I know I could talk to him without any problems because he likes the player to be honest. The day after, the problem was solved.
“I love it because Mourinho listens to you, and then he tells you what he thinks. Sometimes you hate him and you want to kill him, but then you love him because his character is that of a born winner and I identify with him a lot. I have nothing against him.
“But we were not in a good mood and the club was not happy. Imagine if we had won that final with him. Maybe they would have gone crazy for him to stay and they would have offered him a contract renewal just for short-term thinking after winning a title. And if the club really wanted to sack him, it would have been impossible to do that after winning the Carabao Cup.”
Aurier’s now in a situation that he would probably describe as superior, playing for former Arsenal manager Unai Emery in a Villarreal team that won the Europa League last spring and is now in the semifinals of the Champions League. He’s also playing in a squad that contains fellow Spurs expatriates Juan Foyth, Etienne Capoue, and Giovani Lo Celso. His comments doesn’t exactly tell us anything new, but it is interesting to see some of what was previously reported confirmed.