It seems like an awfully long time since Tottenham were top of the Premier League when they visited Liverpool but it was, in fact, just before Christmas. Roberto Firmino’s late header earned the Reds a 2-1 win at Anfield and Spurs have struggled for consistency ever since. Following a 3-1 loss for Jose Mourinho to former club Manchester United last weekend, Spurs are now a remarkable 25 points behind champions-elect Manchester City. They have won one of their past five games in all competitions and have taken four points from four league games.
Spurs are six points outside the top four with just seven games to go and their potential secondary route back into the Champions League, through winning the Europa League, was closed in spectacular fashion last month when they crashed out to Dinamo Zagreb, despite holding a 2-0 advantage from the first leg.
Spurs could still end the season with a trophy – they face City in the Carabao Cup final – but their new £1 billion stadium was constructed with the aim of hosting Champions League football and that is now almost certainly not going to happen next season.
With no break clause having been inserted into the contract of Jose Mourinho, sacking the 58-year-old could reportedly cost as much as £30 million as he is one of the highest paid football managers in the world. So Spurs could be stuck with Mourinho – and Mourinho could be stuck with Spurs.
While a loud section of the Spurs supporters never took to Mourinho after he replaced Mauricio Pochettino, others were willing to give him a chance. But even their backing is fading fast.
“I was probably one of the few still going out to bat for Jose Mourinho but it’s looking difficult to justify him staying now,” says Jonny, a season ticket holder. “However, I don’t buy that it’s all down to him. I think Poch was right, we needed a ‘painful rebuild’ and we’ve not really had it. The same mistakes are being made time and time again.”
Spurs brought back Gareth Bale on a loan deal from Real Madrid last year, but the Welshman’s return to north London has been far from a resounding success. Matt Doherty has made little impact after joining from Wolves and Carlos Vinicius does not have Mourinho’s trust.
While Sergio Reguilon and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg have been solid additions, it is debatable whether they are good enough to feature for a side aiming to compete for major titles. Spurs’ star man Harry Kane is now even reportedly ready to ask to leave if they do not finish in the top four.
The recruitment might have been mixed but Mourinho’s defensive style of football is the main complaint of Spurs supporters. Another fan, Matt Cornish, now cannot bring himself to watch all their games. “Jose was never a good fit for Spurs,” he says. “Spurs have a long tradition of flair and exciting football, and while that’s frustrating at times, we want to at least enjoy watching the team have a go. My worst fears of Jose’s dull tactics have not only been realised, they’ve been exceeded as we don’t even have his ‘trademark’ solid defence of the past.”
Mourinho’s Spurs have a tendency to try to sit on leads but with one clean sheet in their last five league games, it does not appear to be working any more.
While Spurs shut out City, Chelsea and local rivals Arsenal in consecutive league matches in early winter, they have only recorded back-to-back Premier League clean sheets once since. Those games were against Fulham and Burnley, two of the lowest-scoring teams in the league.
The greatest Jose Mourinho teams were virtually impossible to break down. When his Chelsea side won their first title of the Premier League era, a defence marshalled by John Terry and with the brilliant Petr Cech between the posts conceded just 15 goals.
It is no slight on Eric Dier and Joe Rodon to suggest they are not in Terry’s league, so perhaps Mourinho has a point when he complains the quality of players at his disposal is not as strong as in the past, though what he hopes to achieve by criticising them is hard to understand.
Mourinho’s career arguably peaked when he led Inter to the treble, the Nerazzurri knocking out Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League despite being down to 10 men and having just 24 per cent possession in the second leg at Camp Nou against Pep Guardiola’s side. It was a Jose Mourinho masterclass in defensive organisation, as well as in dark arts such as time wasting.
But football is cyclical and the days when teams could aim to soak up pressure and hit the opposition on the counter appear to be gone. The best teams in Europe now seek to dominate the ball completely, attempting to deny their opponents any opportunities to score. It can be argued that the game has left Mourinho behind and he appears reluctant to change his methods.
His aggressive style of man-management, regularly singling out players in the media, also looks to be outdated when compared to the more holistic style used by leading coaches nowadays.
It is six years since Jose Mourinho won a league title and over a decade since the most recent of his two successes in the Champions League. While the Portuguese will still go down in history as a modern managerial great, his time at Tottenham appears to be drawing towards its conclusion.
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