Jose Mourinho is arguably the most divisive figure in world football. You either love him or you hate him but one would struggle to find too many football fans who are indifferent about the Tottenham boss.
Of course, part of this is due to his seemingly brash personality and his tribal nature, which while endears the Portuguese coach to fans of his club, almost always succeeds in alienating rival fans.
However, it is fair to say that perhaps the biggest point of contention that neutrals and football fans have towards Mourinho is his style of play.
The Spurs boss is perceived by many to be football’s equivalent of Donald Trump, a confrontational, egotistical loud-mouth, who wants to win at all costs without respecting the traditional processes entrenched in the sport.
Mourinho’s style of play is often described as ‘anti-football’ as it is aimed at stopping other teams from being able to play their natural game and exploiting their weaknesses.
This criticism is usually levelled at him by people who think of themselves (or in some cases even refer to themselves) as ‘football purists’.
These are people who often believe there is just one right way of playing which is to have possession of the ball, build from the back and commit players in attack, even if it means you might end up making it easier for the opposition to beat you.
The success that Pep Guardiola has achieved in the game over the last decade has only led to a hardening of these people’s convictions.
Guardiola himself certainly belongs to this category. One only has to look at his lack of humility in post-match interviews when he gets beaten by counter-attacking sides.
After his side were humbled 5-2 at the Etihad Stadium by Leicester earlier this season, instead of giving any credit to Brendan Rodgers’ side, he decided to question their approach to the game.
Guardiola said about the Foxes performance that evening: “They didn’t want to play, they defended so deep and just wanted to counter-attack.”
After the 2-0 defeat to Spurs last month, he said: “The stats speak for themselves. We were better in many departments but we didn’t score. The team defended so deep and were waiting for a mistake.”
This is something Guardiola has been doing for the entirety of his managerial career – accusing teams, who beat his sides despite having fewer resources at their disposal, of essentially resorting to ‘anti-football’.
So what do football purists like Guardiola expect teams like Crystal Palace or Newcastle to do? Go toe to toe with them and get thrashed?
If every team plays that way, then the team which has players who are better on the ball, will win 99 per cent of the time, which will further diminish the likelihood of underdog stories like Leicester in 2016 or Greece in Euro 2004.
Football is about much more than one’s quality with the ball at their feet. It’s also about things like your mental fortitude, athleticism/physical strength, emotional control, concentration, your set piece and aerial ability, communication and ability to think quickly.
This why those who watch football just for the aesthetics of possessional play or only to be entertained through goal-mouth action, are anything but football purists as they are unable to appreciate the different aspects of the game.
To give a cricketing analogy, if you are just a fan of T20 cricket and want to see batsmen regularly clear the boundary instead of a close contest between bat and ball, the last thing you would describe yourself as is a ‘cricket purist’.
Similarly, one cannot call themselves a football purist if they do not learn to love the art of defending, and the intricacies of what a team does when they are out of possession.
By this definition, Mourinho is the real football purist as he appreciates that there are many different ways to win a football match.
Unlike Guardiola, whose one-dimensional footballing philosophy requires greater resources than his competition to succeed (like at Barca, Bayern and Man City), Mourinho is never hesitant to take over at a relative underdog and try to help them overachieve, as he did at Porto and Inter Milan.
Of course, one might prefer to watch a certain brand of football over another, be it more possession-based or a style that involves intense pressing high up the pitch.
However, to suggest the way you prefer the game to be played is the ‘right way’ or to discredit a team who achieve success playing differently is extremely snobbish.
Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness and Jamie Redknapp remarked after Tottenham’s win over Arsenal on Sunday that they cannot enjoy watching Spurs play at the moment, while ESPN FC’s Frank Leboeuf labelled Tottenham as ‘boring’.
While fans will always have their preferences, I find it pretty incomprehensible that journalists and football analysts/pundits find it hard to appreciate a side that defends astutely and hits the opposition on the counter-attack.
Watford skipper Troy Deeney summed it up the best when he explained on talkSPORT that there is no one way to win a football match and that is what makes the game so interesting.
👏 “I like how Spurs play! It doesn’t have to be 47 passes for a goal.”
🤦♂️ “I can’t believe Spurs are top & we are looking to criticise.”
👊 “Spurs give you a false pretence that you’re in control then counter.”
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) December 7, 2020
If Mourinho somehow guides Tottenham to a league title this season (and no, I am not saying we are by favourites by any means), would the style of play really matter given what the achievement would mean to a long-suffering fan base like ours?
Just ask Leicester fans what they enjoyed more – finishing fifth playing the way they did last season or winning the title by counter-attacking under Claudio Ranieri.
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