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For his spells to captivate the Tottenham players, they first have to believe in the magic. If the mask has slipped, if every minor detail is viewed through a sceptical lens. If we choose to see each incident as an affirmation of Mourinho’s worst traits, then the players will never follow him and Mourinho is finished.
And what Mourinho has achieved tactically has, in short bursts, run counter to what we expect from him. Tottenham didn’t park the bus against Chelsea, even if Frank Lampard’s side managed to pin them back for long periods.
In short, Mourinho needs time, money, and patience before we can fairly judge his results. At the very least, he needs to be given an opportunity to sculpt the team in his image.
This could be the influence of his new assistant manager, 30-year-old Joao Sacramento, who is seen as a sharp tactical mind helping to modernise the Tottenham head coach.
The reality is more complex. For starters, he has had very little time on the training ground to impart his ideas and for a manager who regularly needs a full 12 months to get the team in shape, we should not be so quick to blame him for failing to inspire a new manager bounce. That Spurs’ drifting performances look so similar to the final months under Pochettino tells us this isn’t really Jose’s team yet.
Whatever the reason, Spurs have been more progressive than anticipated, offering an alternative explanation for why their defensive record hasn’t sharply improved. What has been interpreted as a negative could, in fact, be a sign that Mourinho is changing.
And yet perhaps the tactical intricacies, the pros and cons so far, scarcely matter. Whether pessimistic interpretations of Mourinho’s opening six weeks are accurate or not, it misses the point.
They held 53% possession against Manchester United at Old Trafford. More significantly, during a run of wins in November, Spurs lined up in a unique 3-2-5 formation in possession, shape-shifting to create an attacking system that was a far cry from the rigid discipline usually preached by Mourinho.
Besides, sorting out the Spurs defence will take the sort of long training sessions that haven’t been available until now. It will also take new signings in key areas. This is still the same ageing, jaded squad that Pochettino couldn’t inspire throughout most of 2019.
The best managers in world football coach detailed attacking lines, etching moves into muscle memory to stretch and split a defensive shell. Mourinho, giving genuine freedom for his forwards to improvise on the counter, is being left behind – or so the theory goes.
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