After a dramatic and a stupendously successful 2018-2019 season with Tottenham, albeit without a trophy, Mauricio Pochettino finds himself without a job now. And his replacement, Jose Mourinho, is a man who always seems to get what he wants, and whenever he wants it. A totally unexpected move by Tottenham, will this be a stop-gap solution to get things moving in the right direction? Was Daniel Levy’s decision to sack Pochettino justified, and will Mourinho fall into a similar trap yet again, this time at Tottenham?
Pochettino leaves a legacy!
When Tottenham beat Ajax in the Champions league semifinal earlier in the year, Pochettino cried in front of his fans. He got so emotional that he literally was not able to control his tears in front of the beloved fans that had stood so devotedly by the club for so long. Those tears exuded passion and unbridled enthusiasm in a man who had brought Tottenham from a club that celebrated a top-4 finish to one that became, under him, genuine contenders for domestic and European silverware. He transformed them from also-rans to genuine contenders, operating on a shoe-string budget most of the times. Harry Kane blossomed under him, and so did many others such as Tony Alderweireld and Dele Alli. He was a rock when the club transitioned into a new stadium. He never let down his players, and always stood by his fans.
But despite all the success he had at Spurs, Pochettino did not bring a single piece of silverware to the club. And as he has found out now, that is the single, most important metric that modern football (read Soccer in the USA) looks at. It is a business, more than anything else, and for a person like Daniel Levy, business beats pride and glory by a long way. And, like most owners in the game today, he too responded to a crisis with sacrifice.
Soccer pundits can see more reasons behind this decision – failure due to a limited transfer budget, an inability to tie down key players to long-term contracts etc, but at the end, it comes down to numbers and silverware. Soccer is more than sport/passion, it is pure economics, and that’s why we now see Pochettino jobless.
He will however will find a job very soon, possibly by the end of this season. And I truly believe his best days are ahead of him. His experience at Tottenham has taught him loads, and the only way for him from now is upwards. He might have left without any silverware, but not without having made a lasting impression at a club that reciprocated his love and affection multifold. Manchester United and Bayern Munich are already knocking at his doors. I only hope Pochettino doesn’t rush into a decision but rather takes time to join a club whose ambition aligns with his.
The Special One returns:
He was unemployed for 11 long months, the most he has ever been, since he began his managerial journey with Porto in 2004. Jose Mourinho reckons that he used that time to reflect on his life as a manager, and how he could become a better one in the future. And when he gave his first press conference as Tottenham manager, one could see a stark difference in the way he handled the questions – yes there was that usual habit of him trumpeting his own achievements, but did we also see a touch of humility and level-headedness in some of his answers?
I should admit I was very surprised that Mourinho was given the job at Tottenham. Daniel Levy and Mourinho seem to be two men of elevated ego, a chemistry that history has never favored. Levy had other equally good choices in front of him, but when you realize that a champion like Jose Mourinho is in the job market, it is basic human tendency to look that direction. And that’s exactly what Levy did. Mourinho needed a club, and more importantly soccer needed Mourinho, and Daniel Levy has now given us just that.
But, will Mourinho survive long at Tottenham, or is this a stop-gap solution before he/the club move on to greener pastures? I believe the following factors will decide that.
The Levy-Mourinho chemistry:
History tells us that Mourinho spends a lot of money expanding his squad. And with quite a few Tottenham players running out of contracts, he will soon be knocking Daniel Levy’s office. History also tells us that Daniel Levy is a tight-fisted and penurious boss who doesn’t let money trickle down his hand. One of the reasons why Pochettino was not able to expand his squad was because he did not get enough funding from his boss. Mourinho though is a far less patient man. So, if the same were to happen under him, he will soon be looking for a job elsewhere. But, the club having already moved to a new stadium, and Levy having denied money to Pochettino all this while, I assume the lockers at Tottenham are full at the moment All this points to a perfect time for Mourinho to come in and ransack it. But, the chemistry between the two most powerful people at the club extends far beyond just money. Running a soccer team involves many other factors. The main reason why Daniel Levy chose Mourinho has to do with Mourinho being a serial winner. So, if these two men can get their heads together, Tottenham will see huge success soon. If not, the club will be looking for a new manager by the end of the 2020-2021 season.
The 3-season man:
Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea 2.0 and Manchester United – Mourinho’s last 4 employers. Nowhere has he spent more than 3 years, despite winning numerous silverware at each one of those clubs. And that defines the man in a way.
His first season has always been a kind of introduction where he usually comes up with his usual Jose-isms that has become so commonplace now, and boasts about his own achievements. And in a way, he has never tasted much success in his first year. It is usually in the second that we see the best of Jose in terms of soccer masterclass. This is when he goes on to win silverware for the club, and gets the fans behind him. But, the third season has historically been the time when he falls out with some of his players, criticizes them publicly, and disappoints with results.
When Jose leaves a club, he always leaves it bitter. He burns bridges and leaves fans/players angry. He is the kind of leader who has always wanted to lead on his own. He is a doer and doesn’t believe in delegation. When he leads, he doesn’t want anyone to share his limelight. And that’s why he has so often fallen out with the so-called ‘big’ players (read Pogba, Sergio Ramos, Casillas etc).
But I have to admit the situation does seem different with Tottenham now. There are no ‘larger than life’ figures at the club and it looks like a perfect platform for Jose to make his mark. He also seems to have gotten more matured after staying 11 months out of the game he so loves. Time heals everything it is said, and it seems to have worked wonders with Jose’s head too.
The ‘Chelsea’ effect:
You don’t just jump from being a player/manager at one club to another inside the same city, in soccer! And more so, if the two clubs are perennial rivals, fighting for silverware, it rarely happens!! But if anyone can do it, it is Jose Mourinho! From Chelsea to Manchester United and now to Tottenham, Jose has done it all (or so, I think)! The Tottenham fans don’t seem to be too thrilled with his appointment, so if he wants to succeed in his new role, he needs their backing. And who better to know this than Jose himself. No wonder his first press conference was all humble, and contained talks of making new mistakes and doing what the club wants him to. You could get a sense that Mourinho wants to play this slow at the beginning, atleast till he gets results going his way. A wise option after all!!!
Having said that, he needs to always be on his guard for the rest of his time. Any wrong moves, and he will be reminded of his days at Chelsea and United, and how it was a bad decision to even bring him to the club in the first place. This would probably be the first time in his career where results alone will not be enough for the club to accept him as one of its own.
Jose Mourinho and Daniel Levy have a lot riding on this, and it all depends on what happens over the next two seasons at a club I have followed and loved for a long time. They need to be patient and do what the fans want them to. It is a tricky time to be a Tottenham supporter as well, because they know that Mourinho will bring results but will he be the man that they want him to be, and will his larger-than-life image resonate well with a club that has historically never related itself to such personalities?
Will Mourinho survive more than three years at the club or will he burn bridges, leave an irreparable past, and fall into the same hole he has dug for himself so often before? A lot of questions indeed! Only time has all the answers. But deep down inside, I do hope that Mourinho can bring out the best in Tottenham, and in himself, all with a delicate balance of style, composure, humility and his usual, but limited, dose of cheekiness!