Spurs coach is on the longest winless run of his career and things don’t look like improving any time soon, having criticised record signing Ndombele
Having only once previously arrived at a club midseason it seemed fair, back in December, to give Jose Mourinho a free hit until the end of the 2019-20 season, whenever that might end up being, not least because his unique genius is to harness the power of a small and vengeful clique.
Huddling together, preparing for war, requires an alchemy that was never likely to be possible while his predecessor’s vision was still lingering, and still disintegrating. It is hard to issue a rallying cry surrounded by burning rubble.
What has happened at Tottenham over the last three months has conformed to this expectation, and yet how Mourinho has handled it has severely damaged his own position.
Few managers in world football history have been so overwhelmingly defined by their psychological approach to the role. If that previously gave him time to sharpen swords, now it serves to undermine him. Unlike the concreteness of tactical set-plays, or the tangible nature of technical ability, psychological powers are ephemeral. Harnessing them depends on collective belief and, like fairies, the positive impact of motivation, optimism, and anger ceases to exist when nobody believes in it.
For someone like Mourinho, his fall through the game is having a devastating impact on his ability to manage by inspiration. Everyone, including the Spurs players, can now see the tricks that underpin his siege mentality approach; detect self-preservation where once it looked like charisma.
Whether Mourinho has changed over the last 10 years or merely our perception of his antics has changed, the outcome is the same: a man whose work is built on extraordinary motivational skills can no longer motivate an industry that believes they can see right through him.
Judging by the most recent outbursts, it would appear that something has shifted internally for Mourinho, too. It is as if, with age, Mourinho has fallen into the same trap as Arsene Wenger: privilege, success, and respect can blunt the edges, leaving captains of industry blind to the constant hard work required to stay at the top.
The Spurs manager comes across as a man unwilling to accept the difficulty of the job. But more importantly, with every fresh attack on his players Mourinho reveals his methods are from an era that, to the current squad, must feel like centuries old.
Football’s old school blame today’s ‘snowflake’ culture on young footballers being pampered millionaires, when in fact to emerge from the extraordinary stress of a hyper-competitive academy system means the modern player is more resilient than any generation before them. They just don’t respond positively to being attacked because, well, why should they?
When Mourinho launches into an attack on Tanguy Ndombele, he reveals the chasm between generations. It is a method that cannot work anymore.
Of course, none of Mourinho’s off-field behaviour would matter to Tottenham fans if results were better, and yet this record cannot be disentangled from the mental side. Mourinho is on a six-game winless run, the longest of his managerial career, and Spurs have conceded an alarming 38 goals in 26 games while playing meandering, directionless football. But there is little value in directly critiquing the formation or the team shape.
We still don’t know what Mourinho is trying to do, because none of his instructions are sticking. How else to explain such porousness between the lines, such carelessness with the ball? The only explanation is that belief in his approach has already faded. And belief, that transient state so often found and lost in football, is the foundation of everything Mourinho has achieved.
Without it, he is finished.
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