And so Mourinho’s rather brief tenure at Tottenham comes to end. One is tempted to draw comparisons to George Graham’s time at the club and his being dismissed whilst the team was in the semi-final of the FA Cup. The other comparisons between the two seem obvious enough to avoid having to write them here so I will spare you that. I’ll also spare you talk of how the club is run at boardroom level or any mention of European Super Leagues, stories for another time.
There has been no shortage of people with their knives out for Mourinho and it is difficult to make a case for him having added much to this Tottenham side in his eighteen months in charge. His defensive tactics and divisive personality were always going to be an issue at Tottenham where cult figures include pure breeds like Glen Hoddle, David Ginola, Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric (Before the ‘me hate chicken badge’ affair, at least!) But Mourinho has been rather understated by his own standards and Tottenham’s most successful period this season came with perhaps their most defensive line up. So exactly what did go wrong for the man once labeled the special one?
Searching for the Right Formula
It certainly wasn’t through a lack of trying that Mourinho failed. He went through six different formations as he searched for the winning formula to consistently triumph in games.
He began life playing a 4-2-3-1 formation with Alli playing close to Kane which lasted up until the Everton game at the start of the season. After initial success with the formation, Tottenham have consistently left a man short in central midfield, leaving Alli and the formation itself obsolete. The team could not cope with a man less in midfield however talented their attacking quartet was.
That led us into the most successful period of Mourinho’s reign playing 4-3-3 with Sissoko and Højbjerg in front of the back four. Whilst the football wasn’t always entertaining results were good in all competitions as Mourinho juggled his options successfully and whilst the early (unrealistic) title hopes evaporated Tottenham were going well with the squad they had.
Indeed, two of the team’s biggest weaknesses, Sissoko’s lack of quality in possession and Bergwijn’s failure to contribute goals or assists as a wide man seemed to have solutions within the squad with Winks, Lo Celso, Bale, Lamela and Lucas all waiting in the wings to provide something different. There was plenty of room for the team to evolve whilst using the same formation and so it promised to be an exciting second half to the season.
The More Things Change
Mourinho didn’t agree however. Following a disappointing 1-1 home draw with Fulham in which Sissoko was deployed on the right side of midfield we switched formations to a 5-2-3 system. That led to defeats against Liverpool and Brighton but in late January Tottenham were still in a strong position, in all of the cups and with a record of nine wins, six draws and four defeats in the league. Not too shabby.
The biggest problem with the 5-2-3 formation was that it left the team a man short in midfield. N’Dombele, talented as he is, is never going to relish being outnumbered numerically. It is hard enough getting him to match the work rate of his opposite number! This makes it all the more confusing that when Mourinho gave up on 5-2-3 he went to something of a 4-2-4 formation with Bale, Kane, Lucas and Son all playing. A man short in midfield. Next came 4-4-2. Still a man short in midfield.
And so by the time Mourinho and Tottenham parted they still had the same problem as that which had troubled them in the first game of the season. One which had seemingly been solved once already. One of the great tacticians of the 21st century having failed to address the most obvious of issues. Fixing Tottenham’s defense without adding new personnel may have been impossible but matching teams up in midfield? That shouldn’t be so difficult.
Perhaps Mourinho doesn’t feel the midfield options are good enough but with Højbjerg, Skipp, Sissoko, Winks, Alli, Lo Celso and N’Dombele all available he had a variety of players all capable of contributing at Premiership level. Whilst the obvious shortfalls in this squad means that Mourinho should not take all the blame for some disappointing displays this term, there can be little argument that he is no closer to being successful with this squad than he was at the start of the season or than Pochettino was before him. That would not have changed with a League Cup win. If Tottenham are to spend big this summer would you trust him with the money over another manager? If they’re not going to spend big can you see them improving under him next season?
If like me your answer is no to the above questions you will understand his departure. Mourinho moves on and for me at least I wish him all the best. It didn’t work out and now it’s over. If the previous form is anything to go by it seems likely that Levy already knows who our next manager is going to be whether it is announced now or at the end of the season.
Whoever Levy chooses to appoint, let’s hope that it is someone whose approach reflects the traditions of the club. If the game is to be about the glory again at Tottenham Hotspur, that glory is going to need to be brought by the new manager. Fingers crossed!