On the surface, Jose Mourinho seems to have changed, but the mask is already starting to slip a little. Will he ever really be popular at Tottenham?
A ‘fun’ game to play when a manager gets a job after a period out of the game, is to guess how long it takes for the healthy glow and fresh-faced enthusiasm to disappear.
The most extreme recent example was Steve Bruce, who looked like he had spent the entire three months between jobs at Hull and Aston Villa at a spa in Mauritius somewhere: he had a tan, he lost weight, he looked revitalised and enthused. It took about a month in the Villa Park dugout for that to go.
The relentless grind of management, the pressure from fans, media and yourself, the ludicrous hours: it’s no wonder that after a while managers stop caring and revert to instinct.
Which brings us to Jose Mourinho. He too looks in much better mental and physical shape now than he did in the last days at Manchester United, presumably now living at home rather than in a hotel with only his Deliveroo app and a disassembled Corby trouser press for company.
We’re also told that he’s changed. He has a new outlook on things. He has new assistants, a sensible move in both a practical and philosophical sense. He’s apparently no longer demanding high-profile signings: in fact by announcing that he wouldn’t be bringing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Tottenham, he’s actively moving away from them.
He’s smiling. He’s making jokes. Self-deprecating ones too, like the quip about being sacked by Chelsea, or archly saying that his advice to Dele Alli would stay between him, the player and the Amazon documentary crew.
It’s enough to make you briefly wonder if he really has changed. Is this a new Mourinho? Jose 2.0, softer, kinder, less likely to stick his finger in someone’s eye or needlessly snipe at his own players, opposition players, opposition managers, TV pundits, fans, intervi…well, actually, anyone who vaguely passed across his field of vision. But he’s different now. He and various people who have been speaking to the papers say so.
But the mask is already starting to slip a little. Towards the end of his press conference to preview Tottenham’s Champions League game against Olympiacos, Mourinho spoke about them reaching last season’s final, in a way that only Old Jose really could: “To arrive in the final is an incredible achievement but it’s not history,” he said. “History is winning.”
There will have been a few Tottenham fans out there attempting some significant mental gymnastics over the last week or so, trying to convince themselves about Mourinho. Not necessarily that he’ll be good, that he’ll win some games and maybe a few trophies. But that they’ll like him. Having been used to a manager that was both successful and likeable, warming to someone with Mourinho’s history could be a struggle.
To arrive in the final is an incredible achievement but it's not history. History is winning.
And this sort of thing might not help. Perhaps Mourinho is just trying to instil a winning mentality. But Tottenham are quite rightly extraordinarily proud of getting to Madrid last season, for many reasons, the simplest being that only a few years earlier they were managed by Tim Sherwood who thought playing Kyle Walker as a No.10 and Nacer Chadli as a holding midfielder were good ideas. They came a long way in those few seasons under Mauricio Pochettino, from punchline to European heavyweights.
So to minimise that achievement, even while backhandedly praising it, suggests Mourinho doesn’t quite ‘get’ Tottenham yet. Mourinho ‘got’ most of his previous clubs: at Chelsea he was the brash gunslinger to match their colossal spending; at Inter he puffed out the club’s collective chest and made them feel superior to the Juves and Milans and even Lazios who had ridiculed them for years; at Real Madrid he was adversarial and took down Barcelona (eventually) by any means necessary; even at Manchester United he personified their historical swagger, pride of all Europe, cock of the north. It didn’t work all the time, but there was at least an alignment of, for want of a better word, vibe.
For Tottenham, the fit is a bit more difficult to identify, beyond the nebulous idea that he’s a ‘winner’ and will do what Pochettino couldn’t with this set of fine players.
Maybe he will convert the club to his way of thinking. Maybe he will be so successful that the Spurs fans won’t care if he makes a show of himself. Maybe he really has changed.
But frankly that’s quite difficult to believe. How long will it take for the mask to fully come off? When will Mourinho fully reveal himself? It didn’t take long for the new Steve Bruce to vanish, so will it be any different for Mourinho?
All of which is not to say that Spurs fans would necessarily take a warm fuzzy feeling over winning a few trophies, but that if New Jose has any interest in popularity, he must try to keep Old Jose quiet as much as possible.
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