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20th Nov 2019

If Jose Mourinho is Tottenham’s answer, what is the question?

Simon Lloyd

It says much about modern football and the rapidly shrinking amount of space it has for sentiment that when it came, Mauricio Pochettino’s sacking hardly registered as a surprise

Reaching a Champions League final on a relative shoestring budget doesn’t make any manager exempt from losing their job these days – not if their team underperforms for the six months that follow. That, in short, is how Pochettino’s time in north London unravelled.

Defeat to Liverpool in Madrid was followed by a stuttering start to the new season, one in which Spurs looked a shadow of the side they once were. Results reflected this, and so too did their all-round level of performance. The exuberance and feverish pressing with which they had become synonymous in the not too distant past had faded. Increasingly, the sense grew that Pochettino could no longer fix things.

Many had believed that the aftermath of that Champions League defeat would either see a renewed push towards domestic success or the natural winding down of Pochettino’s energetic renaissance. In the end, it was the latter.

This considered, Daniel Levy’s decision to dismiss the Argentine makes a degree of sense. His choice of replacement, less so.

If Jose Mourinho is the answer, you have to wonder what questions Levy and the other big decision-makers at Spurs have been asking to arrive at this stage.

The most obvious answer lies in the one major criticism levelled at Pochettino at Spurs: his failure to deliver a trophy. With Mourinho, they are getting a man whose record in club football appears to guarantee silverware. Perhaps, also, they have a man who, even after the way in which his tenure at Manchester United spiralled horribly out of control, is still viewed as one of the biggest names in football management.

Perhaps both these points hold some logic. Look beyond them, however, and it’s difficult to see why Mourinho at Spurs could be viewed as a good fit.

At their best under Pochettino, this Tottenham side were lauded for their slick, pacy, attacking play and guile and craft while on the ball. Off it, they pressed opponents high, working relentlessly to win possession. Appointing Mourinho, a man whose brand of football – particularly in recent years – has often looked very different, appears to be an acceptance that those days are gone; that this team need to play a different way if they are to move forward.

That Pochettino took Spurs to the cusp of Champions League glory takes on more significance when factoring in the lack of investment in his squad in the transfer windows preceding that night in Madrid. In total, £95m was spent on his squad over his time at the helm – well short of all other top six clubs over the same timeframe. A need to reinvigorate his squad with new signings was widely reported as a source of frustration for him, seemingly not appeased by the summer arrivals of Giovani Lo Celso, Tanguy Ndombele and Ryan Sessegnon.

Hindered with the cost of paying for a newly constructed stadium, it’s unlikely Tottenham will have the necessary funds at their disposal for Mourinho to put his own stamp on the squad any time soon. For a man who had obvious grievances at his last club’s inability to secure transfer targets, it remains to be seen whether this proves to be problematic.

In the immediate future, taking the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option may pay off for Spurs. For a month or two, possibly longer, Mourinho’s arrival might breathe life into a team that has long gone stale. Recent history, however, tells us that the long-term thinking behind the decision to appoint him is questionable.

Few would bet, given his recent track record, that Mourinho will remain in charge at Spurs for the duration of the three-and-a-half-year deal he has signed. When he does depart, there’s a very real risk that he’ll leave the club in a worse state than the one in which he found it.

Pochettino’s departure may have been inevitable, but what has followed feels like an uncomfortable fit. Appointing Mourinho already feels like an abandonment of all that made Tottenham so good under the Argentine. Should this new chapter not go to plan, they risk drifting further away from the side they once were.