So. The Premier League has seen a major managerial change for the first time this season. Mauricio Pochettino’s tenure came screeching to an end last Tuesday after five and a half years at the helm. Now, much as I really don’t like Spurs, Pochettino took them from a side who were an occasional Champions League side to an established top four team, even taking them to the Champions League final in May. He turned them from a side that were an easy three points into a seriously difficult side to beat. But their league form since the turn of the year has been dreadful. 24 points from 25 games before Saturday this calender year. That’s relegation form.
The run to the final masked a precipitous drop in performances that risked Tottenham not even qualifying for the Champions League. And things didn’t improve this season. Defensive leakiness combined with an inability to hold a lead saw them closer to the relegation places than Europe. There seemed to have been a fallout with some players, who had started to run down their contracts. And unlike previous seasons where the transfer outlay had been minimal, Pochettino had been given quite a large transfer budget in the summer. But despite the spending of money in the transfer market, results failed to improve. And ultimately, football is a results business. It doesn’t matter how nice your stadium is or how attractive your style of football is. If you fail to turn around a long run of very indifferent form, especially if you have ambitions to win trophies and establish yourself as one of the big boys of the league, you’re a goner. And ultimately, while Pochettino may have changed the culture at Tottenham and their stature (I don’t think Mourinho would ever have considered taking the Tottenham job if he hadn’t), whenever he reached a final or was in a position to maybe win silverware, he couldn’t clear the jump. And that led to jibes and accusations of being ‘bottlejobs’.
And so Tottenham have decided to bring in the ultimate result-getter, Jose Mourinho. I have extremely mixed feelings towards Mourinho as a Chelsea fan. He was a major part of getting the club to where we are today. He won three league titles with the club, dominating the season on each occasion. He took a team that had only qualified for the Champions League three times before his arrival and turned them into genuine contenders for Europe’s top prize. But on both occasions he left, he did so with the club in complete disarray after a massive fallout with the board. In fact that is the theme throughout all of Mourinho’s career. He goes to a high profile team, usually spends a lot of money to bring in players he wants, wins a couple of trophies before it all starts to fall apart spectacularly, a fight with some of the players ensues and he then leaves, usually taking an enormous severance package with him.
Whatsmore, the style of football that Mourinho often ends up implementing is not really what Tottenham have been about for the last 6 or so years. When his sides are playing well and everyone is happy and onboard, they can beat anyone in the world. I look at his Chelsea team of 2004-05. That team is one of the best teams the Premier League has ever seen. But the football can sometimes be described as extremely pragmatic, even boring. If a game is 2-1 in Mourinho’s favour, he will often close up shop and get over the line to get the win, rather than risk conceding while pushing for more goals. There is much to be said in favour of that approach. But it doesn’t reflect the direction that the game has gone in. We are far more used to Guardiola’s magnificent passing, Liverpool’s dynamism both on and off the ball. The game has moved in a direction that Mourinho didn’t follow. And there’s nothing to say that’s the wrong method, if it gets the results and the trophies. But are Tottenham fans prepared to see through games and sit there thinking “Yes! We won [insert trophy here], but Christ that was a boring game!”
Gary Neville was asked about Mourinho’s appointment before tonight’s game between Aston Villa and Newcastle on Sky Sports. He described Spurs appointing Mourinho as ‘a marriage of convenience’. I think he’s absolutely right. Mourinho wanted to be back management, Spurs needed a manager. And who knows, he might even deliver Tottenham’s first trophy since 2008. But will he be able to keep an at least cordial relationship with the owner and the players? Will he be able to win over the fans? Or will it disintegrate and head for a messy split after a couple of years? Only time will tell. But it should be a fun ride for all Premier League fans.