It was the question most people had on their minds when Jose Mourinho was appointed as Tottenham’s new manager in November 2019 – is the Special One still special?
Football has evolved considerably since Mourinho reigned supreme with Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid. His tactics, his philosophy and his tricks all worked a treat in his heyday – but in this new era there are doubts whether his footballing strategy can flourish.
After leading Spurs top of the table in December, there was real optimism that the club were thriving under his leadership and that he had finally buried the negativity he is famed for.
Jose Mourinho said he was a changed man at Spurs but his past mistakes are creeping back in
Tottenham have lost three successive games and Mourinho’s reign is threatening to turn toxic
But since defeat to Liverpool two weeks later both results and morale have been steadily in decline – as has the attitude of the Portuguese boss.
Following a third loss of the season to Chelsea, the first time that’s happened since 2012, he snapped at a reporter questioning his decision to leave Gareth Bale on the bench.
When he took over, he promised he was a different manager to the one who was miserably sacked by Manchester United 11 months earlier.
There was hope that the Portuguese boss had turned over a new leaf when he joined the club
‘I’m going to make new mistakes. I’m going to be stronger,’ he said at his Tottenham unveiling. ‘From an emotional point of view I’m relaxed, motivated and ready.’
United had slumped to mid-table in the 2018-19 season under Mourinho, and when things started turning sour there, he fell out with a number of players and his frustration was visible in his press conferences.
With results going awry, fans are already starting to see the same cracks appear in north London despite his initial promise, and the omens are not good for Tottenham. Sportsmail looks at Mourinho’s biggest pitfalls and how they have resurfaced with Spurs.
Talk to any Tottenham fan in recent weeks and they’ll tell you one of two things – they’re sick of Mourinho’s football and they want him out, or they’re sick of his football but they want him to win them a trophy.
No supporter can be satisfied with how the team are playing and it’s resulted in one goal from their last three dismal losses to Liverpool, Brighton, and now Chelsea.
Harry Kane might have been out injured but Mourinho’s set up had been stifling Tottenham long before then. Nothing infuriated the Spurs faithful at home more than watching the team sit back and defend a 1-0 lead at home to relegation-fighting Fulham.
Tottenham fans have grown frustrated with the negative football on display under Mourinho
The team are blessed with attacking talent like Harry Kane (left) and Son Heung-min (right), but both have been stifled by defensive tactics employed by the Portuguese manager
When Spurs do win a game, it’s often not a pretty sight – but a ‘we got the job done’ attitude prevails.
Spurs have shown they can go to Chelsea and put men behind the ball and come away with a 0-0 draw, and wins over Arsenal and Man City have been the result of sitting in deep and hitting them on the counter.
But it seems that Tottenham’s opponents are growing wise to Mourinho’s tricks, and his philosophy – which contradicts the Spurs ethos of attacking with style and with flourish – is proving wildly unpopular.
Paul Merson – not a popular figure in N17 given his Arsenal connections – claimed this week that Mourinho’s team are the worst side to watch in the Premier League, but fans will find it tough to disagree with him at present.
He has been slammed by fans and pundits for defending leads instead of going on the attack
‘Thursday evening’s game, the first half, for a Tottenham fan was embarrassing,’ he told Sky Sports.
‘It was embarrassing at the highest level. I sat and watched, and I could not believe what I was watching. It is mind-blowing what Jose Mourinho must be saying to those players.’
Former Spurs striker Peter Crouch also took aim at Mourinho’s tactics, saying they must be ‘demoralising’ the team. At United, fans had also tired of the abject football on display at Old Trafford in the final stages of his tenure.
After a 1-1 draw with Wolves, Paul Pogba criticised his manager’s strategy – leaving Mourinho furious.
‘When we are at home we should attack, attack, attack. That’s Old Trafford,’ he said.
Mourinho also came under fire for defensive football during his time in charge of Man United
‘We are at home and we should play much better against Wolves. We are here to attack. I think teams are scared when they see Manchester United attacking and attacking. That was our mistake.’
United, a club also famed for their attacking traditions, sacked Mourinho in December 2018 and immediately brought in former player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with the aim of bringing back the traditional flair that United are associated with.
The Norwegian’s set-up had a revitalising effect on the team as he won his first game in charge 5-1 against Cardiff – and went on to win six successive games in a row, giving him the best start to a tenure since the days of Sir Matt Busby.
Keeping the peace within a squad is crucial to maintaining a happy camp, but Mourinho has been to war with so many players it’s easy to lose count.
If you watched Tottenham’s All or Nothing documentary on Amazon, you will remember him going toe-to-toe with left back Danny Rose last season after the defender’s fury at being left out of Mourinho’s plans.
Rose – known for his outspoken personality – questioned Mourinho’s team selections in defence despite the team’s poor record at the back, saying: ‘Other people have been s*** in training and s*** in games, but are in the squad every game. It’s not fair.’
He stormed out of the manager’s office and never played under the Portuguese boss again. Crossing the former Chelsea boss is rarely a good idea, as Dele Alli has discovered this season.
Mourinho’s fall-out with Danny Rose (left) last season was his first bust-up with a Spurs player
Alli has started just one game in the 2020-21 campaign – on the opening day against Everton – and has since been banished from the first team picture.
Mourinho has been left unimpressed with the midfielder’s efforts in training, and has come under fire for some poor displays when given the chance.
Against Stoke in the League Cup Mourinho hauled Alli off after his midfielder gave the ball away during a counter attack which resulted in a goal. The player angrily kicked out after being subbed – with his boss accusing him of ‘creating problems for his own team’.
Mourinho, who was happy to let Alli move to Paris Saint-Germain on loan in January before the deal broke down, took another swipe at him after their loss to Chelsea, saying the club ‘haven’t had a good Dele Alli’ since he had been at the club.
He has exiled Dele Alli (left) from his squad and heavily criticised the midfielder this season
Mourinho hasn’t seen eye-to-eye with Gareth Bale, and has started him twice in the league
But Alli isn’t the only player he’s failed to see eye-to-eye with this term. Gareth Bale hasn’t even come close to meeting expectations of his return to the club despite his affinity with the fans, but Mourinho doesn’t seem the slightest bit interested in the sentiment.
The Welshman has won just two Premier League starts since his loan move from Real Madrid and Mourinho has preferred to play Steven Bergwijn up front – despite failing to register a goal or assist this season – with Bale looking short of fitness.
Sportsmail revealed on Friday that Bale’s appetite is being questioned behind the scenes at Tottenham with question marks over his work-rate.
Of course, clashing with players was a major factor in Mourinho’s demise at Old Trafford. Just like Alli – Pogba was another big personality at United and one he failed to get on board with.
The coach, who had brought the midfielder back to his boyhood club from Juventus in a club record £89m deal, was filmed confronting the player in training for posting a video of himself laughing on Instagram following a defeat in the League Cup to Derby County.
Mourinho didn’t get on with Paul Pogba at Man United and singled him out for criticism
He publicly slammed his physio Eva Carneiro at Chelsea before his sacking a few months later
He had been critical of Pogba’s attitude at times and was far from pleased after the player headed off to Miami to recover from a hamstring injury rather than Manchester. With the player failing to find his best form, Mourinho often hauled him off early during Pogba’s second season at the club.
When he was eventually sacked, Pogba posted – and quickly deleted – an image of him smiling, accompanied by the message: ‘Caption this’.
In his second stint at Chelsea during the 2015-16 season, it was a fall-out with his physio Eva Carneiro – who he criticised for treating Eden Hazard during a key moment in a draw against Swansea in August – that appeared to put the first nail in his coffin.
He said Carneiro ‘needs to understand the game’ – leading to heavy condemnation of unfair treatment, and was later involved in a spat with his striker Diego Costa, who threw his bib at the Portuguese boss after failing to bring him on for a 0-0 draw against Tottenham in November. He was given the axe by Chelsea a month later.
Snide comments in the media
An irritable Mourinho is the first sign of trouble – and that was certainly on display after Tottenham’s loss to Chelsea on Thursday night.
He had not taken a question about Bale’s absence too well, telling the reporter she did not ‘deserve an answer’.
Journalist Alison Bender asked Mourinho: ‘Can I just ask one tiny question – obviously you were just one-nil down… Gareth Bale, a lot of people were saying bring him on… can I ask why you didn’t bring him on?’
Mourinho tersely replied: ‘Good question but I don’t think you deserve an answer.’
Mourinho’s frustration is starting to come to the surface in his post-match press conferences
The Spurs boss then simply said ‘thank you’ before turning away and storming off.
Turning on the press was the beginning of the end for Mourinho at Old Trafford.
After a 3-0 loss to Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs in August 2018, Mourinho was irked by questions from journalists after he had defended United’s display – claiming a section of fans had applauded the team at the full time whistle.
His meltdown saw him leave the press conference in a huff – and while he was given another four months to improve results, his frustrations highlighted the underlying tension that clearly transmitted to the players.
He grew visibly frustrated with reporters during the tail-end of his time at Old Trafford
‘Today the players left the pitch after losing at home and they were applauded, because they deserved it, so keep trying, and trying, and trying, and keep trying [to ask questions].’
‘Just to finish, do you know what was the result?’ he said, holding up three fingers.
‘3-0, 3-0. Do you know what this is? 3-0.
‘But it also means three Premierships and I won more Premierships alone than the other 19 managers together. Three for me and two for them two [Pep Guardiola and Manuel Pellegrini]. So respect man, respect, respect, respect.’