MARC WILLIAMS: Jose Mourinho wins his Spurs

 MARC WILLIAMS: Jose Mourinho wins his Spurs
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Mapperley-based sports writer Marc Williams shares his own opinions and thoughts on national footballing topics.

Sir Alex Ferguson once said, ‘Lads, it’s Tottenham’.

Manchester United’s legendary manager dismissively summed up the perceived fragility of the North London club throughout the noughties in just three simple words.

The evidence was there, too. Especially against Ferguson’s men.

In 2001, United turned a 3-0 deficit into a 5-3 win. Eight years later, trailing 2-0 at half-time, they fought back to record a 5-2 victory. For whatever reason, Spurs’ frailties always seemed to come to the fore.

Fast forward a decade, though, and the roles have arguably reversed and Tottenham should thank only one individual – an Argentinian who arrived in the capital from Hampshire via the warm shores of Catalonia.

On November 19, Mauricio Pochettino was sacked as manager of Tottenham Hotspur to the surprise of many and was replaced, exactly eleven hours and five minutes later, by one of the greatest coaches, managers and football tacticians ever: José Mourinho.

However, in his five-and-a-half years at White Hart Lane, later the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with a near 2-year stint at Wembley in between, Pochettino turned his side from happy-go-lucky mediocrity, to one of strongest sides in the Premier League and in Europe. He had done what he intended.

When he took over from Tim Sherwood in 2014, despite a solid sixth-place finish the previous season, the entire mentality, approach and ethos around the club changed. Spurs became a serious force.

His first season saw them reach the League Cup final – losing 2-0 to Chelsea at Wembley. In the league, they finished fifth, one better than Sherwood’s final season, but one of Pochettino’s key decisions would help change the fortunes of England’s national side.

Throughout his first year in charge, the former Espanyol and Southampton boss was credited with the conversion of numerous academy players to first team regulars, including Dele Alli and Eric Dier who have both gone on to regularly represent England in major competitions.

His biggest success via the club’s academy, however, was the introduction of Harry Kane to Premier League football at the expense of Spain international and £26 million flop Roberto Soldado.

And whilst Kane has gone on to become one of England’s leading marksmen, if not the best out-and-out centre forward on the planet at the minute, Tottenham’s profile has also risen considerably since Pochettino’s first ever game in charge at the Lane.

His tenure? A success. Lauded by the fans? Absolutely. Six months later? Unemployed.

Spurs finished third in the 2015/16 season, relinquishing the runners-up spot to arch rivals Arsenal on the final day. A season later they finished with their highest-ever points total (86), and their highest finish since the 1962/63 season under the legendary Bill Nicholson.

However, it was the calendar year between 2018 and 2019 that really saw Pochettino’s stock rise and his name linked with jobs at Manchester United and Real Madrid.

In December 2018, he secured his 100th Premier League win as a manager with a late victory against Burnley and became the first Tottenham manager to reach the milestone. He was the third-quickest to achieve this feat with a single club in the Premier League era, less than seven months after he was rewarded with a new five-year contract.

A fine 2018/19 season was rounded off when he led his team to the Champions League final for the first time in their history back in May. Spurs, however, couldn’t cap of a fairytale year as they fell to a 2-0 defeat against Liverpool in Madrid.

His tenure? A success. Lauded by the fans? Absolutely. Six months later? Unemployed.

The start of this season was nothing short of a disaster for Pochettino and his disinterested, disheartened, lackadaisical Tottenham team, winning only five games in all competitions. They were also humbled on the European stage back in October, hammered 7-2 against Bayern Munich in their own back yard. Chairman Daniel Levy had to make a change.

As ever, the bookmakers had a lengthy list of favourites to replace the Argentine as manager.

Carlo Ancelotti would have been an expensive successor with two years remaining on his contract at Napoli. Ajax’s Erik ten Hag was widely speculated to be the right man. Rafa Benítez (Dalian Yifang), Eddie Howe (Bournemouth) and England manager Gareth Southgate were also amongst other candidates tipped to take the reins.

However, in reality, there was only one choice.

PICTURED: White Hart Lane (IMAGE: Populous)

When he was sacked from Manchester United back in December 2018, most thought Mourinho would never work in England again. Employed as a regular pundit on Sky Sports, he was eventually lured by Levy – reportedly months before Pochettino was relieved of his duties.

His first game in charge was a must-win. Travelling to West Ham’s London Stadium, Spurs were lingering in 14th position in the Premier League and had been dumped out of the Carabao Cup by Colchester United of League Two back in September.

Though, despite a string of wins, Mourinho’s return to London after his two tenures at neighbours Chelsea has divided opinion.

A selection of pundits and fans were disgusted by the choice. Others were shocked at the timing. Some deemed the decision incorrect and thought Pochettino should have been given more time. But Levy and his directorial colleagues disagreed.

Football is a results business and, unfortunately, when they do not go their way, the manager is the one left isolated to answer all the questions and, ultimately, given their P45. His failure to win a single away victory in the Premier League in ten months certainly did not help his claims to turn Spurs around after a stuttering start.

Pochettino comes across as a likeable character and an even better football manager but at Spurs he had to go, opening the door for one of the very best.

Mourinho comes with a CV that speaks for itself and a reputation of winning trophies. He demands a style of football that no other would even consider.

Gary Neville suggested that the move is a ‘marriage of convenience’, believing that José only accepted the job to re-establish himself and Levy hired him to retain their best players.

Whether that is true or not, what cannot be doubted is his passion to succeed and during his time in charge, however long that may be, he will give his all for the benefit of the club, his players and, more importantly, the fans – it is not about him anymore.

Before his first home game in the dugout against Olympiakos, all cameras were on him. By the end, he had ensured the press wrote only about Tottenham’s passage into the knockout stages of the Champions League, albeit rather turbulently having come from two down.

Though, it was a Mourinho drama with an unusual storyline. But it was exactly why the 56-year-old was brought in and his celebrations, exuberance and contagious persona proves he is not here to simply revive his career.

His antics have already endeared him to home support when he celebrated with ball boy Callum Hynes after his lightening reactions allowed Tottenham to equalise against the Greek champions – high fiving and hugging the fifteen-year-old who became an overnight sensation.

A man of the people.

The Portuguese – who learnt his trade under the late, great Sir Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona – has made a solid start to his reign at Tottenham, re-igniting the spark they had evidently lost under Pochettino.

Now in 7th position prior to the weekend game at Wolves, a win would already see him amass more victories than ‘Poch’ in all competitions, with a date in the knockout stages of the Champions League confirmed.

It is unlikely Spurs will claim any silverware this year, but the early days of management shows he has nothing but success planned for a club he once said he would never manage given his history at Chelsea.

He will challenge for league titles. He will contest every domestic cup. He will fight for European trophies. He will, in no doubt, make Tottenham one of England’s powerhouses once again and the white half of North London will have plenty to look forward to.

Lads, it’s Tottenham, and it is great to see José back!

You can contact Marc on email ([email protected]) or follow on Twitter @ichbinmarc_

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