Mention his name in a room full of football fans and it will immediately spark debate about him, his legacy, his personality, his successes and his failures.
There can be no denying his place among the greatest managers of all time. From his appointment at Porto in 2002 until the end of his second season with Real Madrid in 2012, Mourinho was sensationally successful. Seven league titles in four different leagues. Two Champions Leagues with underdog teams in Porto and Inter Milan. A UEFA Cup with Porto. And six domestic cups. 16 major honours in 10 years. It was remarkable.
His Porto team remain the biggest underdogs to win the Champions League. The played with a brashness that typified their manager. They were a hard working unit, with flair in the right areas, who knew they were better than most, and believed they could beat the rest.
His first spell at Chelsea saw him create an unstoppable machine. He announced himself as The Special One, and he built a special team. World class players throughout, he united them all for the common good and won back to back league titles. He could well have won a third title as Chelsea were arguably the best team in the Premier League again in 06/07 but too many draws saw them finish second behind Manchester United.
At Inter he inherited a good team who were dominant in the post-Calciopolli Serie A and made them even better. They overcame Chelsea, Barcelona and Bayern to give Mourinho his second Champions League. This was however where we saw Mourinho make a drastic tactictal shift. More on that later.
On to Madrid, and Jose won more silverware. A league title over arguably the greatest club team of all time – Guardiola’s Barcelona. 121 goals scored, 100 points attained. Some claimed Barca were burnt out, and maybe they were. But there can be no denial of the brilliance of that Real team.
It’s at this point the story takes a turn for the worst.
Mourinho had never been hugely popular figure among fans of opposing teams. His personality rubbed people the wrong way. He was seen as arrogant, he was seen as unnecessarily combative when asked questions he didn’t like. But the main reason is that he won so much. Jealousy of his success was the real reason people disliked him. Almost everybody would have taken him at their club. He guaranteed success.
Regardless of what people thought about him, there were a couple of things people couldn’t deny no matter their feelings.
First and foremost, he was a serial winner.
Secondly, his teams played a good brand of football. Fantastic defensively, incredible on the counter, capable of crushing teams with the pressure they applied. The fought like wild dogs to win the ball back, and when they had it they sent wave after wave of attack crashing at the opponents goal.
And finally, his players adored him. They would have done anything for him. His Porto, Chelsea and Inter teams would have run through walls just to jump off a cliff at his behest. His players from those teams still speak about him with incredible reverence. No matter what happened on the pitch, the dressing room was united behind him.
But at Real, after that league title, things start to come apart for Jose. He lost the dressing room. A falling out with Iker Casillas saw the dressing split. Casillas was the captain, a club legend and a close friend of many of the top players. Mourinho dropped Casillas and the fans turned against him. Jose hadn’t experienced this before and he didn’t know how to fix it. The walls came tumbling down. Real finished 15 points behind Barcelona and Jose was out of a job.
His time at Real established a bit of a pattern. Two good seasons, turmoil in the third and Jose out of a job.
He went to Chelsea, had a good first season, won a League and League Cup double in his second season, fell out with Eden Hazard and lost the dressing room in his third season and was fired.
He went to Manchester United, won a League Cup and Europa League double in his first season, finished second in his second season, fell out with Paul Pogba and lost the dressing room in his third season and was fired.
The most disappointing aspect of Mourinho’s time at Chelsea and United wasn’t the falling out with players or the losing of the dressing rooms though. The most disappointing thing was the style of football.
While at Inter Milan, when faced with Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final, Mourinho made the decision that the best way to beat the Catalans was to park the bus. To be uber-defensive, to walk a thin line between hard, physical play and outright bastardry. It worked, and he repeated the trick in the final against Bayern. Bayern had 68% of the possession and 21 shots. Inter won the game 2-0.
That brand of anti-football was never going to be acceptable at Real, so Jose didn’t try it there. But at Chelsea and United? He broke it out whenever possible. United, in particular, played turgid football under Mourinho. The style of play, as much as the results, led to him being shown the door.
His demeanour during his spells at Chelsea and United reflected the football. Dour, sulking and always ready to bite when asked a simple question. Gone was the cocky young manager with the sparkle in his eye, completely in control of everything around him. The English media, who had fawned over him during his first spell at Chelsea, grew tired of him. With the magic gone, he seemed like a bitter man.
And so on to Spurs. Mourinho replaced Mauricio Pochettino in November of last year. He’d been out of work almost a year. The hope was that the time off would give him fresh perspective. He’d worked as an analyst for Sky during that time and his insight was fascinating.
But the Mourinho that Spurs got was a different Mourinho, at least in terms of results. His win % hadn’t fallen below 58% since his six month spell at Uniao de Leiria in 2001. Even then he only lost four of his 20 matches in charge. His record at Spurs is the worst of his career thus far, played 35, won only 16, drawn 9 and lost 10. He seemed to have forgotten how to win. He seemed to have forgotten how to set up a defense as well. Spurs conceded 47 goals in his 35 games in charge. Including 30 in 26 Premier League games.
This was a man who, in that 2002-2012 run had never even come close to conceding a goal a game. In the seven full Premier League seasons that Mourinho oversaw between his two stints at Chelsea and his time at United, they’d only conceded 30 goals or more in one season.
A Mourinho who can’t organise a defense and give his team that base to play from, isn’t a Mourinho who’s going to be successful at Tottenham. The base of all his successful teams at previous clubs has been a great defense.
It wasn’t just the goals Spurs conceded either, it was the lack of shape, the offset defensive line, the lack of focus, the frequent errors. Things completely foreign to Mourinho teams of the past.
His alleged feud with club record signing Tanguy Ndombele doesn’t bode well for the future either. Mourinho needs all the players on his side and a falling out with Ndombele could lead to problems with other members of the squad who are close to the Frenchman.
Spurs have the ingredients to play Mourinho football. The good brand of Mourinho football. They need a couple of additions but not major surgery, and not mega-bucks spending.
Hugo Lloris is not quite the keeper he was but he’s still one of the better players in the league in his position. He’s also the captain and highly influential. Paulo Gazziniga is a solid if unspectacular backup. Spurs will have to address the goalkeeping situation in the next year or two, but not this summer.
At the heart of the defence Spurs boast Toby Alderweireld, one of the best central defenders in the league. He’s not quite at his best anymore but when fit he’s still top class. Partnering him is Davinson Sanchez, a defender Mourinho should be able to develop into a top class player. Sanchez is still a little inconsistent and error prone but he’s better than most in the position. Japhet Tanganga and Eric Dier provide capable depth, with Tanganga having the potential to become a very good player. Dier gets a lot of flak for his performances in midfield, but he’s a solid central defender.
The full back positions need addressing. Especially the right back spot. Spurs are seemingly in the process of selling both Kyle Walker-Peters to Southampton and Serge Aurier to AC Milan. They will absolutely need to buy in this position this summer, and ideally they would bring in two players who can play here. Zeki Celik of Lille is being strongly linked and would make a lot of sense. At 23 he’s nowhere near his peak and the rumoured price of £18million appears good value for the Turkish international.
Left back is less of a necessity but Ben Davies should really only be a backup player at a top club and Mourinho doesn’t seem to fancy Ryan Sessegnon. With work, Sessegnon could nail this position down for a decade and be a fantastic outlet for Tottenham all along the flank. If Mourinho feels that Sessegnon’s future lies in a more advanced position then perhaps he’d be better off moving him on. A starting leftback, or faith in Sessegnon is needed here. Perhaps Alex Telles of Porto could be a good option for Spurs.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg looks set to set to become the first signing of the summer for the North Londoners and, in my view, he is an excellent addition for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, Tottenham need a holding midfielder. They need someone to shield their defense and win the ball back. Hojbjerg won the ball more than any other Premier League player in the middle third of the pitch last season, and he did it playing in only 33 games.
At 25 he is entering his peak years and he will add leadership to a midfield sorely lacking direction last season, as well his playing traits. His arrival should also see the end of the Eric Dier in midfield shenanigans for good.
Hojbjerg completes Tottenham’s midfield and gives them plenty of option in terms of shape, style and system. Whether in a double pivot, as the central figure in a three, or at the base of a diamond, Hojbjerg will be a good addition for Spurs.
Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso, Harry Winks, Moussa Sissoko, Gedson Fernandes and Oliver Skipp, along with Hojbjerg, give Mourinho one of the strongest midfield groups in the league to work with. It gives him options galore, and the midfield area has always been key to his success. His Porto, Chelsea, Inter Real teams in particular were brilliant in midfield.
Dele Alli and Eric Lamela can be used as attacking midfielders or out and out attackers and both offer plenty when fit and in form. Both, especially Dele, have struggled over the past couple of seasons but can flourish if used correctly.
Upfront Spurs can still rely on the services of England’s number 9, Harry Kane. Kane guarantees goals, but he does have injury issues. Spurs may look to invest in a striker that can act as a back-up to him, but also partner him at times. Someone like Ollie Watkins of Brentford might fit the bill for Mourinho.
Son Min Heung is a borderline world class player, arguably the most underrated player in the Premier League and can be used in a plethora of ways. Played wide, or through the middle, Son offers goals, pace, creativity and non-stop effort.
Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn are immensely talented, if a little inconsistent. Both are potential matchwinners who can turn a game in the blink of an eye with the blinding pace. Spurs also have the very talented Jack Clarke coming back off a loan spell.
You could argue that with Troy Parrott on their books, Spurs don’t need any additions in attack but he will spend the next season on loan. As mentioned, someone like Watkins could be a good addition, or maybe they’ll look for someone older to avoid blocking Parrott’s path to the first team.
Either way, Spurs are in better shape than this past season showed. They need three or four additions after Hojbjerg, but nothing that will require massive spending. Mourinho inherited a squad only six months removed from contesting a Champions League final. Christian Eriksen left in January and Jan Vertonghen has departed this summer but if rumours are to believed, those departures might help heal the dressing room.
And the dressing room is the first area of Mourinho’s past that he needs to go to. He needs to unit the dressing room, and he needs to gain their trust. He has to get every single player, from Harry Kane, Toby Alderweireld and Hugo Lloris down to Oliver Skipp and Jack Clarke, to buy in. He needs them to buy in to him. They need to believe in him. If he can’t accomplish this, the project is doomed.
Look at the top two clubs in the country, Liverpool and Manchester City. The managers there have full buy in from every player. Now, whether Mourinho is at the level of Klopp or Guardiola anymore is definitely questionable. But he has been at that level. He spent a decade at that level. He was the elite of the elite and he needs to convince the players he can be again. He might need to convince himself first and foremost, but the mentality of us vs the world that Mourinho created at Porto, Chelsea and Inter was something to behold. If he can do it again at Spurs, that will go a long way towards bringing success to a club, and fanbase, desperate for trophies.
He should also look back at the way his teams played. How tactically brilliant he was. How detail orientated he was. He needs to take his buses and park them elsewhere. He can still use them, but only on rare occasions. Only when absolutely necessary.
The shape will be important too. The 4-2-3-1 and 4-5-1 formations became favourites of his post Inter, but at Porto, Chelsea and Inter he played switched between a diamond midfield, and a 4-3-3. He has the players at Tottenham to use both, but the diamond might actually suit his players better.
At Porto he won the Champions League with it. Costinha holding, Maniche and Mendes in the engine and Deco at the 10 behind a front two of a classic 9 in Derlei and a hybrid attacker in Carlos Alberto.
At Chelsea it was predominantly 4-3-3 for the first two years, with the diamond only broken out on occasion, but it became more commonplace in his third season. Makelele holding, Essien and Ballack in the engine, and Lampard freed to play as an attacking midfield behind a classic 9 in Drogba and a hybrid attacker in Saloman Kalou, when Roman wasn’t insisting on Shevchenko starting of course.
At Inter he used Cambiasso holding, Stankovic and Thiago Mendes or Sulley Muntari in the engine and Sneijder. Diego Milito played as the classic 9 with Eto’o used in the hybrid role. It often gets overlooked because he started using the 4-2-3-1 quite regularly with Eto’o and Pancev wide but the diamond worked there as well.
Mourinho, at his very best, had that sort of tactical flexibility that made his teams difficult to plan for. At his worst, at Manchester United in his third season, he’d become so predictable you could name his team, formation and likely substitutions weeks in advance. The diamond disappeared in Madrid after only a couple of sightings, 4-3-3 has gotten rarer and rarer as seasons passed. 4-2-3-1 has become the go-to formation and what is advertised as 3-4-3, but in reality is closer to 5-5-0, has made far too many appearances
Tottenham have the ideal group of midfielders to pull off the diamond. Hojbjerg at the base, setting the platform and shielding the defense. Harry Winks offers cover though he’s not nearly as good defensively. Ndombele, Lo Celso, Sissoko and Gedson can all operate in the engine, and all offer different things. Mourinho can mix and match here. Horses for Courses. And then Dele as a 10, free to join the attack and do what makes his great, score goals. Eric Lamela is more suited to this role than he is to the wide roles he’s spent most of his Spurs career operating in. Spurs have two good options for each role.
Kane and Son as a front two is as good as anyone in the league can offer, and Moura and Bergwijn give Mourinho options. A front 2 like this might negate the need for a backup striker as Moura or Bergwijn can fill in if one of Kane or Son is out for any reason.
Spurs would need new fullbacks to pull it off, but they need those anyway. No matter the shape or style, that’s an area that needs to address. But it’s really the only area, now that Hojbjerg is on his way.
From a player perspective, the needs are clear and attainable. But from a manager perspective, the needs can only be addressed by one man, Mourinho himself.
It’s clear Jose still has passion for the game, and it’s clear that his mind is still sharp as a tack and the ability to dissect what he’s watching and relay it to an audience in simple terms is still fantastic. What’s not clear is whether he believes in himself. Whether he believes he can get back to being what he once was, arguably the best manager in the world on track to position himself as maybe the greatest manager of all.
Mourinho needs to be braver in how he sets his teams up, he needs to be more proactive in switching formations as and when required. He needs to ignore the urge to bring the buses out when facing a top team, unless the circumstances dictate it. If you’re heading into a second leg of a Champions League semi-final away to Bayern Munich holding a 1-0 lead from the first leg? BRING OUT THE BUSES. Otherwise? Just say no.
Mourinho doesn’t need to reinvent himself, he doesn’t need to be “more like Klopp and Guardiola” as some claim. Quite the opposite. If anything, he needs to uninvent himself. He needs to be his old self, the Jose Mourinho who raced up and down the touchline at Old Trafford in the spring of 2004, the Jose Mourinho who sauntered into a press conference prior to a Champions League game against Barcelona and predicted, perfectly, Barca’s starting 11 to the media.
If he can turn back the clock, he can lead Spurs to success. He can bring silverware to a club starved of it. Because it’s what he does. He wins things.
But, if the Mourinho Spurs continue to get is the one who left United, and the one they got this past season, then Tottenham Hotspur will become the first club Mourinho has managed in nearly two decades where he will fail to win a major trophy. If that’s how it turns out, then Mourinho is finished in English football and Tottenham may have to consider whether it’s time to start fielding calls on people like Harry Kane.