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What Has Mourinho Changed At Spurs?

27 November, 2020

Jose Mourinho isn't a man who smiles in public very much.

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We occasionally got to see him crack a smile or even laugh in the Amazon documentary "All or Nothing," which covered his turbulent first season at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but when he's facing the press, he's generally surly and downcast. Recently, he's been as close to smiling as we've seen him since his days at Chelsea - and that's because, with the first quarter of the season gone, his team is at the top of the Premier League. After being written off as a has-been after his dismissal from Manchester United, the legendary Portuguese coach has found his way back to the summit.

Few people would have predicted this turnaround at the start of the year. Mourinho wasn't universally welcomed by Spurs fans, who generally weren't happy about the dismissal of previous manager Mauricio Pochettino and saw the former "Special one" as tarnished by his tenures at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford. After a promising opening few games, results started going against the team, and there were calls for him to be dismissed as recently as April 2020. Marca, the sporting newspaper in Spain (a country where Mourinho divides opinion sharply after his stint in charge of Real Madrid), seemed to take particular delight in his apparent struggles, devoting a whole feature to his apparent inability to lift Spurs out of their rut. Marca, like many pundits, appeared to be crowing at Mourinho. They're not crowing any more.


This season, Spurs are a completely different animal. As disappointing as Spurs occasionally were last year, it’s important to remember that Mourinho took the side over after the season had begun. He didn’t get the chance to lay down his ideas during pre-season, and he inherited somebody else’s squad. Everything is different now. The summer break might have been shorter than usual, but the coach still had time to work on new ideas with his squad. He also had the opportunity to move a few players around and bring his own targets in. He’s ruffled some feathers in the process of doing so - as Mourinho always does - but nobody can argue that his strategy hasn’t worked. This is a new, leaner, hungrier Tottenham - and a side in which there no longer appears to be any room for two players who were once considered to be among the first names on the team sheet.


One of the consistent themes of Mourinho's time as a manager is that he expect players to be well-rounded. Attacking players don't interest him unless they're also willing and able to track pack and put a shift in defensively. This is the reason why he fell out with Paul Pogba at Manchester United. Now, it seems to be the reason he's fallen out with Dele Alli. Two years ago, Alli was one of the most promising players in the England team, and arguably the most important player in Spurs' whole midfield. Now he's lucky to get a space on the bench and is regularly linked with moves elsewhere. Shortly after joining the club, Mourinho warned Alli that he thought he was too lazy in training, and he didn't like it. Alli apparently didn't take that warning. Now he's watching Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, signed by Mourinho from Southampton, doing his job.


Danny Rose, who was once England's first-choice left-back, is faring even worse than Alli. He had a high-profile bust-up with Mourinho on the aforementioned Amazon documentary and accused the manager of having a vendetta against him. He spent the end of last season on loan at Newcastle, but the Magpies opted not to make the move permanent. Since returning to Spurs, he's been training with the youth team and suffered the indignity of not even being given a squad number for the 2020/2021 season. There might be a way back for Alli if he's willing to put the effort in. There might not be any such road to redemption for Danny Rose. Sergio Reguilion has made the left-back position his own and won't be surrendering it any time soon. After 13 years with the club, his Spurs story might be at an end. Mourinho has improved Spurs, but he's done so at the cost of one or two old favorites.


There are a few cliches that could be applied to this situation. One is that you can't make an omelet without cracking a few eggs. Alli and Rose are expensive eggs to crack, but they've been cracked all the same. Another is that you don't win anything at an online slots website just by landing all the right symbols. As anyone who's ever played online slots will know, having the symbols on your screen isn't what's important. What's important is the order that they land in. You might win nothing at all if you land the five most valuable symbols in the game in the wrong place, but you could earn a lot of money by landing a series of less valuable symbols in a line. It takes luck when they play online slots with 10 free spins no deposit. It's also the risk that football managers take when they play around with players and formations. Rose and Alli have historically been valuable to Spurs, but they no longer 'fit,' and they don't deliver jackpots under the Mourinho system. They're out. 



Compare and contrast their situation to that of Tanguy Ndombele. It's no secret that Mourinho wasn't the biggest fan of the French midfielder when he arrived at the club, despite the fact that Ndombele is Spurs' record signing. The Portuguese coach thought that Ndombele was unfit, lacked stamina, and lacked concentration in games. He wasn't shy about expressing those thoughts to the world's media. Ndombele was expected to leave over the summer but chose to stick around and prove the coach wrong. This season he's slimmer, faster, and more energetic. As a result, he's back in the starting line-up and finally looking like a player who's worth the money Spurs paid for him. Whether or not Mourinho is right to criticize his players in the way that he sometimes does is a matter for debate, but it's hard to deny that it brings results when you look at the difference in Ndombele.

Mourinho doesn't have to win the league this season in order for the campaign to be judged a success. A trophy of any kind would be acceptable to Spurs fans and would serve as a platform to improve upon next time around. He might not admit it, but we suspect that Mourinho's aspirations for the 2020/2021 season go a lot further than the League Cup or the FA Cup. Right now, Tottenham are on top of the pile. He'll be hoping he can keep them there until May.

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