At Tottenham, Mourinho will get what he got at Man United. Has he learned from his mistakes?
He’s back. Eleven months have passed since Jose Mourinho was sacked by Manchester United and, in between, we got a couple of commercials for bookmakers, a global roadshow in multiple languages to remind us he was still special, some technical analysis in TV studios and talk of wanting to join a club with “structural empathy.” That’s your starting point. Those two words: “structural” and “empathy.” Will Mourinho get this at Tottenham now that he has replaced Mauricio Pochettino?
As far as structure is concerned, despite praising not just Tottenham’s “great structure” but the “dynamic of the structure” at his cheery unveiling to the press on Thursday, Mourinho will get what he had at Manchester United, where executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward held control, unless something radical happens in North London: He’ll be working for an owner who never speaks and sits an ocean away (Joe Lewis), plus a big boss in Daniel Levy who runs the club, micromanaging transfers and budgets. And not much else, in the sense that there is no Director of Football or Head of Recruitment to act as a buffer between the manager and the top.
As for empathy, suffice to say it’s not a word often associated with Levy, his new Woodward. Levy is routinely depicted as a shrewd, ruthless negotiator, relentlessly looking for value. It’s a neat contrast with the profligacy of his previous boss — whether it be Alexis Sanchez‘ paycheck or Romelu Lukaku‘s fee — but it’s also a different way of doing business.
Woodward is (or at least was when Mourinho was at Old Trafford) the guy who buys the priciest ingredients in an attempt to bake the best pie and then looks to grow it; Levy is the guy who doesn’t like to share his pie and looks after every single crumb.
But look at it another way: Perfect fits are exceedingly rare in the highest echelons of football. If you take over a team in mid-season, it’s usually going to be a club in distress. It will usually be in distress because your new employers made some very poor choices and you have to trust that they will make better decisions going forward.
There is no question here that while Mauricio Pochettino bears some of the responsibility for what went wrong at Tottenham — the most damning statistic: 25 points from 24 league games dating back to February — and was effectively waiting to leave since the summer, which no doubt hurt Spurs’ performance, fingers of blame have to be pointed upstairs.
It’s easy to be desensitised because it has been a running theme for so long, but it’s simply unconscionable for a club to find itself with four starters — Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld — out of contract next summer and Danny Rose, who wants to leave, in contractual limbo. While it’s true that Pochettino made a point of pushing out various recruitment figures at the club (Franco Baldini and Paul Mitchell) to arrive at a situation where it was just him and Levy calling the shots, it’s equally true that the buck stops with Levy.
When a player is underperforming, you sell. When a player is running down his contract, you either sell or extend it. These are basic tenets of running a club. It’s what Spurs used to do very well — this is the club that got around £60 million ($80m) for Kevin Wimmer, Nabil Bentaleb, Benjamin Stambouli, Roberto Soldado and Paulinho — but it’s what they were seemingly incapable of doing over the summer. Offers came in for every one of the “Tottenham Four” named above but partly due to indecision (from both Levy and Pochettino), partly due to an incorrect belief that they could get more and partly due to disagreements on potential replacements, they all stuck around.