Given the transformation of both parties in recent years, Jose Mourinho’s appointment at Tottenham feels like an antithetical match.
While the north London club developed a reputation under the affable Mauricio Pochettino for being one of the most entertaining teams on the continent, Mourinho’s most recent stint in charge of a club was a tetchy, turgid affair that ended messily.
But for all the negativity surrounding his attitude and tactics during two-and-a-half seasons at Manchester United, Mourinho managed something Pochettino didn’t in five years at Tottenham: winning trophies.
The Portuguese led United to the Europa League and League Cup to become the first manager in United’s history to win a trophy in his debut season at the club.
It feels as though Tottenham is currently balanced precariously and when perhaps a calm, level head is required to steady the ship, the club has instead taken a gamble on a coach who has a history of ruffling feathers.
“There are obviously concerns about how Jose and our club’s Executive Board will work together and we are sure all fans would appreciate greater clarity on how the club sees this relationship operating in practice,” the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust said in a statement.
“The questions around transfer policy, wages and accountability raised in our earlier statement on Mauricio Pochettino’s sacking still apply and we encourage the club to communicate their plans thoroughly and transparently with their fan base.”
A look at the trajectory of the Portuguese’s career suggests the partnership between Spurs and its new manager is likely to go in one of two extreme directions, with only a small chance of there being anything in between: Either Mourinho and Tottenham win trophies or the relationship implodes spectacularly.
Chairman Daniel Levy, of course, is hoping — and, perhaps with this appointment, betting — that it will be the former.
“The club must ensure it does not find itself in the same position in two or three years’ time,” added the Trust statement. “And we need to hear from the Executive Board what the long-term thinking behind this appointment is and how it sees its role.
“As a supporters organization, we hope for a successful future that respects the unique Tottenham Hotspur identity and the traditions Spurs fans cherish so dearly.”
Having spent more than one billion dollars on building what is now arguably the greatest sports stadium in the world, Tottenham now has an obligation to be successful.
It was widely reported that Levy broke the club’s strict wage structure to tie talisman Harry Kane to a new long-term contract but the expenditure on the stadium meant Pochettino was hamstrung in the transfer market.
Moreover, any successful team needs the regular addition of new faces to prevent stagnation — and that was not a luxury afforded to Pochettino.
In 2018, the club became the first in Premier League history to not sign a single player during the summer transfer window.
No signings were made in the 2019 winter transfer window either and it wasn’t until the summer of 2019 before Tottenham finally added some new faces in the form of Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon.
Coupled with the slow turnover of players — Kieran Trippier was sold in a cut-price deal to Atletico Madrid — Pochettino has been forced to essentially use the same faces for the past three seasons.
Following the devastating defeat to Liverpool in last season’s Champions League final, still the Argentine wasn’t provided with funds to revamp a squad in desperate need of an injection of new life.
The club has also allowed the contracts of several of its star players run down without renewal, leaving Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen free to move on in the summer, while Danny Rose last week announced he wouldn’t be re-signing after his contract expires in the summer of 2021.
Tears or trophies?
Mourinho has always been provided with a large transfer fund wherever he has gone, which, if that is once again the case at Spurs, raises the question: Why would Levy back him financially and not Pochettino?
The Argentine is in many ways the antithesis of Mourinho; the manager who develops young players, creates teams that are more than the sum of their parts and plays free-flowing football.
“The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning,” Danny Blanchflower, Spurs’ 1961 double-winning captain, once said. “It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish.”
So how does Mourinho fit in with that great Spurs tradition?
Though there has been little glory on display this season, Tottenham’s capitulation has been remarkable and so severe that its form stretching back to the start of the year has been that of one fighting relegation rather than challenging for trophies.
Any permanent slide down the table and away from regular Champions League football would be a disaster, both from a financial and sporting perspective.
No team has ever finished in the top four of the Premier League after recording as few points as Spurs’ 12 after 14 games so far this season. Mourinho will have to start working his magic fast.
If Mourinho is able to achieve Champions League qualification and make history, it wouldn’t be a trophy but, in the long run, it might be worth a whole lot more.
But the process could be painful. Throughout his controversial career, the 56-year-old has fought with club owners, opposition managers and even his own fans in sometimes ugly clashes, rarely endearing himself to the masses.
Yet Mourinho’s record of 25 major trophies in what is undoubtedly a glittering career is perhaps why Levy felt it was a risk worth taking.
Only time will tell — likely three years in Mourinho’s case — whether Levy has backed the right horse.