Search icon


10th Mar 2020

José Mourinho’s time has finally run out

Kyle Picknell

In the Samuel Beckett play Krapp’s Last Tape, an old man listens to recordings of his younger self, lamenting everything he was. Everything he ever did.

How idealistic he used to be and how, back then, there was love and hope and both of those things entwined together. But above all, how foolish that all seemed now. On Tuesday, Jose Mourinho took Tottenham Hotspur to Leipzig, almost 16 years to the day since he watched Costinha smash in the rebound from a free-kick and skipped down the touchline of Old Trafford, a boy in a toy shop, knowing that the Champions League would soon be his.

Six years later he did the same, zig-zagging onto the field at the Nou Camp, finger to the Gods, in a moment that would forever be preserved on our timelines as the GIF of choice for football Twitter’s finest young contrarians, celebrating that ever-elusive ‘dub’. These occasions were José Mourinho unencumbered, when he was still the slick young firebrand who’d rock up at the most imposing stadia in the world and prevail against the odds. Full of hope, and something like love. Not the guy taking a back four composed entirely of centre-backs away to Turf Moor.

In Saxony, Tottenham were facing a 1-0 deficit on aggregate after a typically insipid performance during the first leg in London. They were lucky it was only one. In the opposing dugout, at the reins of nouveau riche energy drink FC, the team you buy all your players from on Football Manager, was Julian Nagelsmann. Somehow only 32 years of age – two months younger than Jan Vertgonhen – he is the atypical millennial football manager. You know, the kind that wears makeup, shapes his eyebrows and installs a twenty-foot high television screen at the training ground to ensure his players have a better tactical overview. ‘Baby Mourinho’, they call him.

Spurs went behind inside ten minutes, the captain Marcel Sabitzer squirming one beneath the wet paper towel grasp of Hugo Lloris. Two-nil inside twenty, until the offside flag pulled Timo Werner back after tapping home. Not to worry, Aurier soon misjudged a pass down the line, Angelino surged through to cross and Sabitzer was there again. The wacky inflatable arm flailing tube man in goal offering all the resistance he could muster.

It must be hard for Mourinho, haunted by these past versions of himself, to come to terms with his dismal existence now. A man for whom reality has shifted from daring gold to a miserable noir. Those Battle of Thermopylae last stands and titles, oh so many titles, a thing of the past given that all that consumes him these days are his own chugging midfields and performative striker crises. His hands always deep in his own pockets, searching for excuses like pennies in a fountain, wherever he can find them.

Spurs have been dysfunctional regardless of The Special One’s presence. See Eric Dier, hurdling seats like he’d forgotten his own Gepetto’d existence at the base of the midfield, and Tanguy Ndombele doing far worse. A tin man man-marking Pedro Neto. Searching for heart. Even so, much was expected of the self-proclaimed trophy specialist. Perhaps more given that he replaced Mauricio Pochettino, the best modern manager Spurs have ever had, even if he did lose a Champions League final to the best team around by way of Moussa Sissoko’s armpit. Football is a game of fine margins, after all.

The thing that seems to destroy Krapp, above all else, is the sense of something lost. Throughout the play he will stop, and stand motionless, and sigh, before fumbling around in his room and his drawers and his clothes. Looking. At first, he only finds a banana, then a tape, and then a past version of himself. The thing that seems to destroy Mourinho, above all else, is the sense of something lost. Throughout the play he will stop, and stand motionless, and sigh, before fumbling around in his technical area, through his notepad and then his coat. Looking. At first he only finds Lucas Moura, and then Erik Lamela, and then a past version of himself.

Emil Forsberg made it 3-0 late on, four on aggregate. At least now Mourinho is free from the duel stranglehold of elite European competition and the battle to qualify for it. You can only imagine that soon, he will be free once again. Free to sit on his porch, glass of lemonade in hand, shotgun in lap, reminiscing of the time he was the thrilling embodiment of what a football manager should be and not its direct antithesis. Time, as it so often does, has gotten away from him.

“Perhaps my best years are gone,” Krapp says in the closing scene. “But I wouldn’t want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn’t want them back.” It is defiant, kind of, as he stares on into the empty space, still bitter about something he can’t quite locate. The tape unspools and he sits, in silence, with nothing new left to say until there is no tape left at all.