‘Same coach, different players’. That was the response of Jose Mourinho when asked, in the wake of the disappointing 2-2 draw at Newcastle, why his current Spurs team can’t seem to defend leads like his great teams of the past.
Not the words of a manager who has the complete backing of the dressing room, and certainly not words that will help his popularity amongst fans, in a week where The Athletic revealed that only 46% of a sample of Spurs fans would be happy with Mourinho still being in charge next season.
I am here to discuss whether he is in fact the same coach, what has changed in terms of the players and how they are reacting to Mourinho’s methods.
Spurs have dropped 13 points from winning positions this season by conceding in the final 15 minutes of games. Whether this is by dropping deep to try and defend a lead, or being wasteful with chances to kill games off, it has been a recurring theme of this season.
However, it has not been a recurring theme in Jose’s career. With these 13 points, Spurs would be sitting in 2nd, comfortably in the Champions League spot on 62 points.
So where does the blame lie? Are these players genuinely that much worse than the players Mourinho had at his disposal during his glory days as a manager? And is he that coach anymore?
Firstly, it must be said that Mourinho started off his Spurs career being highly complimentary of this Spurs squad, and then in the summer of 2020 added to it greatly with 7 signings, each one building the squad depth even further.
Six of the eleven who started the Champions League final just six months before Mourinho’s appointment, and were important players under Pochettino’s relatively sustained progression, have played over 1000 minutes in the premier league this season.
So how have Spurs regressed, despite boasting the best striker in the world, a World Cup winning captain, and a host of undeniably talented players?
Well, the easy observation is that the manager has changed. Mourinho brought with him a completely different culture of football, supposedly a winning culture, that was always going to take some getting used to.
Gone were the Pochettino days of turning up to training with their footballing father figure, as many of the Spurs players described him. Instead, Mourinho was here to turn them into a bunch of words I can’t repeat here.
He argues that his coaching methods are still ‘second to none’, and it is obviously undeniable that for the most part of his career, they have been. However, in this day and age, are Mourinho’s ways of coaching becoming more outdated than he might think?
There have been rumours and rumbles of discontent amongst the squad and, although this has often been denied, two players that have been left out of more match day squads than they have started matches, Harry Winks and Dele, are clearly not enjoying their time of it at the moment.
Whether this is to do with Mourinho’s coaching or not, they were both very important players as recently as Pochettino’s final season in charge, when Spurs finished 4th.
Dele was seen being critical of Mourinho’s playstyle in the Amazon All or Nothing series, and has since featured very irregularly for the side, clearly then someone who has not particularly enjoyed Mourinho’s tutelage.
On the flip side, though, there are many players who are arguably enjoying the form of their career under Mourinho. Kane and Son are obviously performing as well as anyone in the league this season, as well as Hojbjerg and Ndombele who are both rising to the challenge of playing for a top club in the Premier League.
However, this only serves to suggest that this current Spurs squad are individually as good, if not better (on paper) than any squad Pochettino ever had. The key players are still there, apart from Eriksen, who was never truly replaced, there is much more depth if any of these players get injured, the only difference is the manager.
Jose Mourinho is running out of time to turn this season into a success. He has not done anything to make me believe that long term he can progress Spurs any further than Pochettino did, despite being backed with 8 more signings in the space of 9 months than Poch was allowed in over a year.
Even in Pochettino’s last 12 league games in charge, he managed 1.5 points per game, this season under Mourinho it is 1.6. Is that improvement worthy of alienating some of your best players and the majority of the fans? Let’s see what Levy decides.
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