Much has been made of the fact that Jose Mourinho might be an outdated manager, both in terms of tactics and psychology.
The theory goes that tactics have passed Mourinho's insistence on reactive opposed to proactive football. However, more worryingly, there is a belief that modern players do not appreciate or react well to Mourinho's brand of abrasive motivation. His spells at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan were marked by unshakable bonds with his senior players. That was not always the case at Real Madrid, his second spell at Chelsea and his time in Manchester. In fact, during those jobs, fractured relations with senior players undermined those tenures.
Strained/fractured relations with members of a squad is par for the course in football. It becomes a problem when the relationship between a manager and much of the squad is strained to the point of breaking, as was rumoured to be the case in the aforementioned jobs. It is an obvious statement to make but the implementation of tactics by the players are as important as the tactics. Now, if Mourinho had lost the ability to motivate players, or worse remain on good terms with them, then the implementation of tactics are far from a given.
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A body of thought emerged that the profile of a modern player did not suit Mourinho's brand of abrasive motivation. But what is abrasive motivation? Well, publicly calling out the work ethic of the club's record-signing in Tanguy Ndombele or jettisoning one of the club's best players in recent years in Dele Alli.
Yet, it seems to have worked out okay at Spurs. Ndombele continued his excellent run of recent form with another standout performance against Ludogorets in the Europa League before he was withdrawn with an hour gone, presumably to save him for the crunch game with Chelsea in the Premier League. And Alli had renewed impetus, biting into challenges and having a hand in the first goal for Carlos Vinícius and then setting up the second for the same player with a selfless assist.
Carlos Vinicius celebrates with Tottenham team-mates
Image credit: Getty Images
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So perhaps the issue with Mourinho in recent years has not been an inability to connect with the profile of a modern player. Perhaps the issue was the profile of the club. Mourinho's greatest successes - at Porto, Chelsea and Inter - were at clubs who, despite their standing bought into Mourinho's underdog/slighted narrative.
It is a hard sell to players who have enjoyed great personal or collective success - like Cristiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard or Paul Pogba - playing expansive, possession-based football that an emphasis on organisation and defensive football was their only route to success. However, at a club like Tottenham, mocked for their inability to win trophies, who ultimately could not secure silverware playing an expansive brand of football under Mauricio Pochettino, it is an easier sell.
Mourinho failed to get consistent buy-in from the players at his most recent clubs, but the performances in recent weeks and in Tottenham's 4-0 Europa League win – especially from Alli - suggested that Mourinho at Tottenham might just work. It spoke of a player who has, despite being dropped from not only the team but also the squad, fully bought into Mourinho's methods.
Perhaps his tactics and psychology are not outdated, perhaps he just landed at the wrong profile of club. The performance of Alli against Ludogorets represents evidence as to why Tottenham and Mourinho are in fact a perfect match, a manager who revels in winning as an underdog has landed at an underdog club again.