Well, Jose Mourinho’s return to English football has not exactly been a smooth ride. Then again, when is anything a smooth ride with the Portuguese manager? While results definitely took an upturn in the immediate aftermath of his appointment, they have since taken more than a bit of a nose dive. They were outclassed by RB Leipzig and Chelsea before twice surrendering the lead to lose at home to Wolves last Sunday. And there has been one reason Mourinho has trotted out at every opportunity. In press conferences, pre- and post-match interviews, any chance he can get that he has no fit natural striker to pick.
But is he doing more harm than good? Is he simply setting his team up to fail by simply lamenting that fact and not adapting to the players he does have available? Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min would be big losses for most Premier League sides. They are that special breed of player that can win a game for you; Kane through the fact that he takes so many of the chances that come his way, regardless of their apparent difficulty and Son because of his mercurial ability to create and goals from seemingly nothing. Losing them for the majority of the back end of this season is undeniably damaging to Tottenham’s aspirations.
But Tottenham had the January transfer window to bring in striker to cover for Kane. They actually had the summer transfer window to do so as well, having decided to release Fernando Llonrente. Why did they decide not to add another striker to the squad, in case exactly this happened? It was hard luck for Kane to be ruled for the majority of the rest of the season with a torn hamstring in January and then Son to suffer a fractured elbow earlier in February. But why hadn’t they anticipated that this might be a possibility. There are always going to be injuries throughout a Premier League season. Especially if players are playing the vast majority of games. That’s why you have a squad of players, so that you can rotate players in and out and keep them relatively fresh and largely free from injury. In their haste to address other areas of the team, Tottenham failed to adequately replace Llorente in the summer, and this has left them in their current situation.
Mourinho’s tactics in the wake of these injuries have if anything made things worse. With the lack of a man up top for others to feed the ball and build attacks around, he has gone into his ultra-pragmatic mode, where he simply looks to achieve a positive result by any means necessary. Often by locking things downs defensively and scoring on the counter attack. I personally thought this style of Mourinho’s would make itself known a bit sooner. He’s not one for having a style of football and sticking to it doggedly. Mourinho goes for results. That is his style; he wins football matches. But the players are not responding to it. And I think part of that is the tone he sets in interviews and press conferences. By constantly pointing out that Kane and Son are missing, he does seem to come across as not having any faith in the rest of his squad to step up to the plate in their absence. And it ignores the abilities of the players he does have available, like Dele Alli, Erik Lamela and Steven Bergwjin. He has players creative players. He is right in one aspect though. Those players thrive, as does Son in reality, off Harry Kane’s ability to hold up the ball and link with his teammates to bring them into dangerous areas. Not only does he have an eye for goal but he is more than capable of playing a killer pass or delivering a very good cross into the box to assist goals himself.
Jose Mourinho has always found a way to be successful at every major club he’s managed in his trophy laden career. Modern critics will point to the blow-ups and subsequent departures from all of his most recent jobs, his disregard for how his teams play as long as they win. And his antics in the press are not entertaining anymore. They come across as a grumpy old man complaining when things are not going his way. The situation is detrimental to his side, certainly. But Tottenham fans and footballs fans in general will not allow him to keep saying ‘Well, what can I do when I don’t have a fit striker to call on?’ The simple answer to that would be ‘well, why didn’t you push harder to persuade the board that signing a striker was vital to your chances for the rest of the season?’ His relentlessly cautious tactics, looking to simply contain Leipzig and Chelsea, do not suit the players at his disposal, who are used to a far more expansive style of playing. When Mourinho was hired, everyone thought it was simply a matter of convenience for both sides; Mourinho wanted a job in the Premier League and Tottenham needed a manager. We all wondered what might be the cause for Mourinho to fall out with the board and players and end up leaving. This could be it.