Despite charm offensive Mourinho will be ruthless with Spurs outcasts
“I didn’t want you here, but you’re here now, so well done. Welcome.”
David Brent, to the Swindon lot.
Well, you’ve got to hand it to José Mourinho. The PR lobe in his giant football brain has been working on overdrive this week. In truth, it’s been whirring steadily since his appointment as Tottenham Hotspur head coach last Wednesday, replacing the widely adored Mauricio Pochettino.
The charm offensive has been all-consuming. A negativity-squashing bulldozer of charisma, humility and high-fives. He’s said the right things, put his arm around the right players/ball boys and laughing— the laughing!— far too much to be trusted.
How will it all end? A popular bet is that Mourinho runs a scorched earth campaign over the work of Pochettino and leaves the club a smouldering pile of ashes. There used to be a football club over there, as the famous Keith Burkinshaw line goes.
It’s too early for that kind of melodrama, of course. Indeed, the early signs are that Mourinho is at least sympathetic to the idea of keeping the fans onside.
Careful not to alienate the large percentage of those supporters who felt Pochettino deserved more time to pull the North London club out of their 12-month tailspin, the former Chelsea boss has been quick to laud the work of his predecessor. ‘I have to congratulate him for the work that he did,’ he told reporters in his first press conference last week. While hundreds of football-based social media accounts composed their ‘Classy!’ tweets with accompanying hand clapping emoji.
As parting words go, they’re a little more magnanimous than those aimed at Claudio Ranieri in 2004. Not only did he replace the venerable Italian at Stamford Bridge, he threw an inexcusable amount of shade on him in the process. ‘It is really not my fault if he was considered a loser at Chelsea,’ he declared, innocently.
As well as the niceties directed at Pochettino, who he insists can come back anytime for dinner or a sleepover, Mourinho has also let the players feel the warm glow of his genial disposition. Footage of him goofing around with Harry Kane and the gang in training emerged before the West Ham game. While both Dele Alli and Kane have been singled out for morale-boosting public genuflect.
Even Davinson Sánchez, who was openly ridiculed by Mourinho in the aftermath of the 2017 Europa League final, was given props for his performance at the London Stadium after a draining international schedule.
And it makes total sense. Let your biggest stars feel important. It’s player management 101. Even Alan Shearer realised his best chance of saving Newcastle from the drop in 2008 was to inflate Michael Owen’s easily-inflatable ego; just enough to squeeze some vital goals out of him. That didn’t work; Owen’s career had long since peaked. But the theory was sound.
And it’s exactly how Mourinho will try and inspire Harry Kane. Make him feel like a superstar. As the Portuguese coach suggested: Who needs Zlatan Ibrahimovic when you have one of the best strikers in world football? Just what Kane wants to hear.
Not quite my tempo
But what about those not in the fold? Just like Luke Shaw and Juan Mata before him, there will inevitably be fall guys in the regime change; players Mourinho simply doesn’t fancy.
Moussa Sissoko on paper looks like an archetypal Mourinho midfielder; hardworking, athletic, powerful. But it already seems like the new Spurs boss has seen enough. ‘He is a very good player but he is very different than my needs,’ he said of the Frenchman, via BBC Sport. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. With Tanguay Ndombele, Harry Winks and the long-admired Eric Dier fighting over two positions in a 4-2-3-1, you’d have to guess Sissoko was not long for this team. In Mourinho’s opening two games, West Ham and last night’s visit of Olympiakos, it’s been Winks and Dier in that two-man midfield base.
Christian Eriksen has been, how to put this, quite shit for some time now. Seemingly weighed down by the crippling sense of ennui that’s plagued him since he was rejected by Real Madrid last summer. He’s essentially been playing like someone trying not to get injured for six months. Perhaps not the kind of warrior mentality Mourinho might be searching for. The classic play would be to bully Eriksen until January, then sell him to the highest bidder to fund a move for Bruno Fernandes. Everyone wins, apart from Eriksen, who looks like a man who’s forgotten how to love.
Poor Troy Parrot. On the brink of the first team, under the guidance of a coach renowned for letting young talent flourish. A back-up striker by virtue of being the only one left at the club who isn’t Harry Kane. Life is good.
But what’s that? Spurs have replaced said coach with one who’d sooner scrap the youth team entirely, than be forced to play one of its members? Unless they’re called Scott McTominay and being used in some kind of weird power struggle with your inadequate chairman? It’s a great shame to say that the wings of Parrot’s development will be clipped unless he finds a loan club. The first victim of the revolution. It’s a heartless world out there, kids. Especially when José Mourinho is in charge.
This was first published in November 2019.