Jose Mourinho may be relieved to see Spurs come away with three points from their match with Aston Villa, but his departure now feels inevitable.
Spurs are still trying to recover from defeat to Arsenal in the North London derby, a miserable result and performance which was compounded by the shock exit to Dinamo Zagreb in midweek despite a first-leg advantage. A win at Villa is no easy feat, so Mourinho and his squad will be relieved. Many fans will hope that it is a chance to take the edge off the dour atmosphere at the club and finish strongly at the end of the season. The international break could be the chance to hit the ground running for the campaign finale to make a dash for a Champions League spot, or at least an impressive run of results.
That, however, appears unlikely. Speaking after the Zagreb game, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris quite explicitly hinted at problems and disquiet behind the scenes.
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“You cannot let it down if you play or you don’t play. To behave as a team is the most difficult thing in football. Whatever the decision of the manager, you have to follow the way of the team. If you follow the team only when you are in the starting XI it causes big problems for the team because you pay. I think the team at the moment is just a reflection of what is going on at the club."
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Oddly for a Mourinho team, there are no strong rumours about deep problems with Mourinho. We know that he does not rate Dele Alli and has done his best to ostracise him, but Alli was already in stark decline before his arrival. Tanguy Ndombele appeared to be on the receiving end of the Pogba-style treatment, but proved himself an unusual modern footballer by fighting back and winning over his manager. That is to his credit, but this now rare success is an exception to Mourinho’s rule.
A win for Spurs has taken them to sixth place, and they are now just three points shy of the Champions League places. It is within their talents to build upon their win and grind their way into the top four, with a host of relatively easy games still to come. But as last week showed, they are now a team who are well capable of folding against mediocre opposition.
In football, Alex Ferguson once said of a team’s title challenge that ‘when it goes, it goes quickly.’ For Mourinho, his death throes take months rather than weeks. At Manchester United he laid the groundwork for a November sacking by giving an unbearably depressed pre-season press conference once he knew he wouldn’t be getting his desired signings. He was combative with his players, mardy with the press, and appeared to lack interest in winning games. His departure was inevitable.
At Chelsea, there was something similar. There was the disgraceful carry-on with Eva Carneiro, but he had already lost the commitment of his players with his need for aggression and strife. When they had their league title the pressure dropped and they grew sick of his needling. His sacking brought to an end a series of needlessly gratuitous provocations as he watched his players fail to deliver on the pitch. Each week it was a little more agitated and spiteful, but after the first intervention it appeared irreversible.
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Something similar now seems to be happening at Spurs. Against Villa he made seven changes, and brought in players who he plainly does not rate when all his squad are at the top of his game. It is a reasonable decision to drop players after they deliver such shocking performances, but to do so with so many new players is more of a considered insult than a tactical rejig. Modern players do not take well to such reality checks, and it feels unavoidable that they will repay him by essentially downing tools, and losing interest in their job. It happened at Chelsea and it happened at United. Spurs are not sufficiently different to escape the standard Mourinho downfall process.
After the game, Mourinho said: "I want to be proud of my players, no matter the result. I was proud of players during my career many times after defeats. I was not proud last Thursday or at the Emirates.
"I can't do it alone. I have to do it with my club, with the players in the dressing room.”
That last sentence fees like another chance for Mourinho to let his squad know they have lost his trust. It surely won’t be long before they let him know the reverse is also true.
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