Jose Mourinho and Tottenham Hotspur.
A manager who was past his best according to many.
A club with just one major trophy since the turn of the century.
An unlikely partnership, or one that was always destined to succeed? Because it’s working. It’s really working.
Spurs go into their weekend visit to Chelsea on top of the Premier League (at the time of writing), and the question on everyone’s lips – or ours, at least – is just how far can they go?
Both can claim relative recent success. Mourinho still has the honours. A Premier League winner in 2015 with Chelsea, a Europa League winner two years later with Manchester United. Hardly a drought.
Tottenham, meanwhile. have established themselves as one of the big four over the past five years despite the lack of silverware. Third, second, third and fourth in consecutive seasons – as well as Champions League finalists under the now-departed Mauricio Pochettino.
And if it wasn’t for a torrid start to the 2019/20 campaign that saw the Argentine replaced by the Special One – plus an injury crisis in the weeks building up to the COVID-19 season postponement – they’d most likely be playing amongst Europe’s elite once again.
Before we look at the man himself, you can’t talk about Tottenham without mentioning two stars on the front line. That late push for the top four during Mourinho’s maiden campaign was thwarted by injuries to Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min. This season, the pair have arguably been the best two players in the Premier League.
Two forwards perfectly in tandem. Kane has scored seven goals and set up nine, seven of which have been converted by his South Korean strike partner. Son has returned the favour with two assists for the Spurs skipper. The link-up in the final third has been mesmerising. The work rate all over the pitch has been outstanding. And that’s one thing you’re guaranteed from a Jose Mourinho team.
In Amazon’s All or Nothing documentary, Mourinho labelled the squad too nice. We won’t roll with the full quote, which was somewhat stronger, but it was clear that Spurs needed a midfield man to fill ‘the Makelele role’. A player to do the dirty work and be anything but nice in the middle of the park.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was the chosen one, and the signing from Southampton is yet to miss a minute of Premier League action. Claude Makelele, Michael Essien, Sami Khedira and Nemanja Matic are just some of the stars to have filled this position for Mourinho over the years, and it’s a position key to Jose’s various styles of play.
Mourinho can, ironically, park the bus like no other – and this Spurs team have shown just how devastating they can be soaking up pressure and striking on the counter. They only needed 33% possession to sink Manchester City last weekend. Hojbjerg was quietly outstanding.
He made more tackles than any Spurs player, made seven ball recoveries, two clearances, one block, and committed more fouls – four – than anyone on the pitch. But no yellow card. A master of the dark arts? On the flip side, he was Tottenham’s top passer on the day. Get you a man who can do both.
With Chelsea’s attacking threat, it’ll be no surprise to see a similar scenario play out this weekend. And it’ll be no surprise to see a similar result. Frank Lampard may have learned a lot from his former boss, but the Chelsea manager is still learning on the job, and no one can identify and exploit flaws like the meticulous Mourinho.
It’s an interesting period in the Premier League and management in particular. Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal – traditional title contenders – have all gone for legendary former players with inexperience. A route which is unlikely to bear fruit any time soon.
Mikel Arteta is seemingly looking to nurture the Gunners’ young talent, which will have long-term benefits and is a good option if the board are willing to wait for success. Whereas Lampard – and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Old Trafford – have focussed on attacking talent to mask areas of weakness.
Then there’s the new breed. Ralph Hasenhuttl looks destined for big things and is working wonders at Southampton, Nuno has brought success to Wolves – and although battling at the opposite end of the table, Graham Potter and Chris Wilder are among those whose fresh approaches to management are to be admired.
But while these up and coming gaffers continue to develop their trade in a season like no other, is now the perfect time for a manager who’s seen it all and done it all to strike?
Everton are going well under the legendary Carlo Ancelotti. Brendan Rodgers and David Moyes are often mocked on the world of social media, but they’ve been around a long time and have made impressive starts with Leicester City and a West Ham side that were seemingly in freefall last season.
Hey, even Roy Hodgson and Crystal Palace are above Manchester City. Is that all-important know-how being undervalued? Can ‘unfashionable’ win the race?
Mourinho’s title wins have been far from dull, but they have been built on a solid defence and being hard to beat. Take a look:
Jose Mourinho’s title wins (38 games unless stated)
- Porto 02/03: Lost 2, conceded 26 in 34
- Porto 03/04: Lost 2, conceded 19 in 34
- Chelsea 04/05: Lost 1, conceded 15
- Chelsea 05/06: Lost 5, conceded 22
- Inter 08/09: Lost 4, conceded 32
- Inter 09/10: Lost 4, conceded 34
- Real Madrid 11/12: Lost 2, conceded 32
- Chelsea 14/15: Lost 3, conceded 32
Since their 1-0 opening day loss to Everton, Spurs are unbeaten in eight and have conceded eight, keeping clean sheets in three of their last four. They’re hitting their stride. And they’ve still got Gareth Bale working his way to full fitness. It’s on. And it’s 5/1 with Grosvenor Sport.
They’ve called him a dinosaur, they’ve accused him of getting left behind, but what do they know? Jose Mourinho simply cannot be written off.
So… Tottenham Hotspur: 2020/21 Premier League Champions. Can they do it? Will they do it?
Nope, it’ll probably be Liverpool. Sorry.