0:49 Jamie Carragher says Jose Mourinho has a point to prove at Tottenham
It should be noted that his best work has been done in similar circumstances. First there was Porto, who he transformed into unlikely Champions League winners. Then there was Chelsea, who came to dominate English football under his watch. After that there was Inter Milan, a fallen giant who he took to the pinnacle of the game.
Mourinho is unlikely to receive the same level of financial backing as at his previous clubs – that new stadium will not pay for itself – but it does not necessarily take lavish spending to create a squad of players willing to give everything for the cause. Mourinho, the master motivator, will seek to harness the spirit of the collective that had ebbed away under Pochettino.
Pragmatism over philosophy
Philosophy. It is a word used liberally by Pochettino. But Mourinho usually utters it with contempt. He has always prized pragmatism over all else and he will continue in the same way at Spurs. His spoiling tactics can be frustrating to watch, but his trophy haul speaks for itself.
Spurs could certainly use a little of that pragmatism now. They have only won one of their last seven Premier League games and have surrendered leads in each of the last three. In total this season, they have conceded the same number of goals as Brighton. It is all very un-Mourinho like.
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In truth, though, it has been a long time since Spurs fans have seen the kind of free-flowing, high-intensity football that came to define Pochettino’s side at their best. Instead, they lost their way, Pochettino’s fruitless efforts to find a new formula evident in how he chopped and changed his system and personnel in the last few months of his tenure.
Maybe, then, it is a good time for new ideas. Mourinho’s three-and-a-half-year contract shows that Spurs view this appointment as a long-term one. But don’t expect their new incumbent to talk of philosophies and playing styles. His only concern is to win. He will achieve it by any means necessary.
A familiar formation
Pochettino tried a string of different formations in Tottenham’s first 12 games of the Premier League season, ranging from 4-2-2-2 to 3-4-2-1, but the most commonly used during his reign was 4-2-3-1 and it’s Mourinho’s preferred system too. It demands hard-working wide players, ample defensive cover in central midfield and tactical discipline across the board.
It is not dissimilar to what Pochettino asked of his players and the squad should therefore be well-equipped to fulfil those demands – they are no strangers to being pushed to their limits, after all – but there is less certainty about which players Mourinho will trust to carry out his orders.
His time as a Sky Sports pundit offers the best clues as to how he will approach Tottenham’s contract rebels. Mourinho is a known admirer of Toby Alderweireld having tried to sign him at Manchester United. He is likely to value Jan Vertonghen’s defensive experience too. But his comments in relation to Christian Eriksen suggest the Dane’s days may be numbered.
“I don’t like to keep players that don’t want to stay at the club,” he said last month. “I am not thinking about the economical perspective, I mean from a motivational point of view. There are some moments where motivation affects performance and it is difficult to keep players happy when they have other dreams.”
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Eriksen’s publicly-stated desire for a new challenge may mean Mourinho looks elsewhere for his creativity. He may instead focus his attention on getting Dele Alli, five years Eriksen’s junior, back to his best. He will like Heung-Min Son’s speed and directness in transition. Erik Lamela will need to show greater consistency, but he is another wide player with the work-rate to thrive in a Mourinho team.
At the base of midfield, history suggests he will favour a defensive enforcer like Eric Dier – a player he has tried to sign in the past – over a passer like Harry Winks.
He is likely to value Moussa Sissoko’s versatility. He will do his utmost to integrate summer signings Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon. He has even suggested he will promote youth. In the short-term, though, it would be no surprise if he opts for experience.
There will be strengthening
“The quality in both the squad and the academy excites me,” said Mourinho on the announcement of his appointment. “Working with these players is what has attracted me.”
A few months ago, in the Sky Sports studio, he was conveying a similar message. “I always felt the biggest investment Tottenham could do,” he said, “was keeping their best players.”
Clearly, Mourinho feels there are tools in place to work with.
But as well as a determination to get more out of the players he has already got, he arrives with the promise of financial backing in January and the summer. The squad is far stronger than Tottenham’s league position suggests, but there are undoubtedly areas which require reinforcement.
3:27 Speaking on Sky Sports in September, Jose Mourinho analysed some of the issues facing Tottenham at the time
Lo Celso was brought in as a successor to Eriksen. Ndombele has added further depth to their midfield. But even if Mourinho decides to persist with Alderweireld and Vertonghen, the defence requires surgery. At right-back, Kieran Trippier’s departure has left the error-prone Serge Aurier as the only senior option. There is uncertainty at left-back too.
The other end of the pitch requires attention as well. Kane is scoring goals with as much frequency as ever, but Fernando Llorente was not replaced in the summer and the absence of a back-up striker has added to the pressure on his shoulders. Son and Lucas Moura are capable of covering, but they will be needed elsewhere.
Mourinho is sure to demand those issues are addressed when the January transfer window rolls around. But until then it is down to him to reinvigorate this Spurs side through other means. His appointment has split opinion – his CV contains cause for alarm as well as optimism – but a win at West Ham on Saturday would be a first step in the right direction.