Time to Mou-ve on

by Craig Emanuel

His time at Manchester United wasn’t as successful as he would have liked. I’m sure he was hurt by the criticism and the suggestion that his techniques are outdated; that he struggles to man manage the millennial generation. I think we’re now seeing the repercussions of that in his demeanour and in his new look coaching team.

It has taken me almost two weeks to find the right words. To give a positive message on the new direction of our club without disrespecting our former manager. Times they are a changin’ and change is often hard. However, it is hard to disagree that we find ourselves in a better place now than at the start of the last international break.

Many of our fans, myself included, were clinging on to the security and stability of the Pochettino era – yearning for him to find solutions to our woes. To go on to create a dynasty at the club in which we would go on to surpass our achievements of the first five years of his tenure.

Managers come and go. We’ve seen that all too regularly at Spurs over the past 30 years. But Poch seems different. The tears in his eyes after the last game at White Hart Lane indicated to me that he wasn’t just passing through. He gave his heart to the club and we reciprocated. Yet when the results turned for the first time during his tenure, he was unceremoniously disposed of.

We want to view our club as different to all others. We do things differently. The “right” way. But that illusion came crashing down on the night of the 19 November. Ultimately this is a results business and our Argentine messiah was failing in that regard. There is little room for sentiment in football, as we saw at Leicester when Claudio Ranieri was sacked just 9 months after overseeing the most unlikely league title win in history.

Perhaps in our case, a parting of the ways was in everyone’s best interests, before the atmosphere around the club turned toxic. Certain sections of the fan base were already calling for a change a couple of months ago and an increasing number were starting to have doubts over his future. We certainly wouldn’t have wanted to see banners and protests like those of the “Wenger Out” brigade down the road. Not at our club. We’re different, after all. Levy acted decisively before the #PochOut campaign had gained any momentum. He acted, as he sees it, in the best interests of the club and perhaps also on grounds of self preservation, given a swell of opinion that the current malaise could be attributed to the lack of financial backing from the Board. Either way results needed to improve.

Pochettino challenged the club to be brave before the summer of 2018, but there has been little bravery shown at boardroom level in the period since, certainly on the footballing side of the club; the signing of Tanguy Ndombele being the one exception. Levy finally rose to that challenge two weeks ago, pulling the trigger on the best manager he had appointed in his 19 years at the helm. Someone who had taken us to a first Champions League final less than 6 months ago, and replacing him with a loose cannon who has repeatedly lit fires at his previous clubs and bailed from the burning building. A brave decision. Some may say foolish. Certainly ruthless.

We must now move on. As a club and as a fanbase. We can look back over the last five years with fondness and gratitude. Pochettino’s legacy lives on at the club in the players he has moulded and the elevated status we now enjoy. But now it is time to take down the Pochettino banner from the south west corner of the stadium. Time to back the new manager and hope that he can extract even more from this group than his predecessor.

11 hours after the announcement of Poch’s sacking, it was officially confirmed that Jose would be leading us forward. It’s fair to say that his appointment has divided opinion. The negatives are well documented – divisive, moody, narcissistic etc etc. We all have a fair idea how it’s going to end but maybe we can enjoy the ride while it lasts.

He’s not a project manager. He won’t be looking to build a squad for the future. He’s here for the here and now. And maybe that’s what we need. We have an ageing squad, the stars of which won’t be prepared to wait around for a rebuild and the vague prospect of competing for major trophies in a few years’ time. They don’t have time and they no longer want to be at a “nearly” club at this stage of their careers.

The one thing Mourinho brings in spades is belief. He is a serial winner. We know that. They know that. There are never any guarantees but the prospect of working with Jose might just breathe new life into this previously stagnating squad. The contract rebels may decide it is worth extending for a couple more years to see how this plays out.

Many fans might want shot of them regardless but the financial benefit of restoring the market value of those assets would, in itself, justify the hefty salary being paid to Mourinho.

So far so good. Three wins out of three. And we’ve seen a different, softer side to Jose than what we’ve become accustomed to. He’s saying and doing the right things. The monologue about Poch at the start of his first press conference. The apology to Eric Dier after hooking him with less than 30 minutes on the clock. The pre-match interaction with the ball boys and girls this past weekend. Not to mention the warmth he’s shown to the ball boy whose quick thinking led to our equaliser against Olympiakos. This has been a concerted charm offensive.

“Are you Jose or Jose’s brother?” The answer appears to be Jose’s brother and we’d all like to keep it that way.

The cynics amongst us will be wary of a saying involving a leopard and spots. Jose is what he is. Let’s see his reaction when we lose our first game under him. When we hit our first bad spell of results. At the start of his second stint at Chelsea he labelled himself “the happy one” and we all know how that turned out. It’s difficult to believe that everything we’ve learned about Jose over the last 15 years has been replaced by the Mourinho of the past fortnight. He’s an intelligent, self aware individual. Everything he does, he does for a reason and this is no different. But let’s take it on face value. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that his 12 months out of football has revitalised him and having a job near his family in London will result in a happier disposition than we saw when he was living out of a hotel room in Manchester. Let’s give him a chance to prove to us that he is reinventing himself.

Many were concerned about the style of play we might see under him, given the turgid, unimaginative football we saw from his charges at Old Trafford. Again, so far those concerns have been misplaced, so much so that he could be Ossie in disguise. 3 games, 10 goals for, 6 against. 5.3 goals per game. Life is anything but dull under Jose. We score for fun and can’t defend for toffee! Early days though.

Personally, I think the questions over his style of play are overblown and, let’s be honest, the last 11 months of the Pochettino reign was hardly footballing poetry. He’s not Pep Guardiola but benchmarking him against one of the “purist” football managers of all time is not necessarily fair. His time in Spain brought that comparison into focus, when the playing styles of the behemoths the two of them presided over differed significantly.

Whereas Pep is a purist, Mourinho is a pragmatist. He’ll set up his team in whatever way maximises his chances of winning the game. And maybe we need that after the stubbornness of Poch in sticking with his footballing ideology at all times.

We’ve already seen some differences in the team set up and in-game management from the Pochettino era. The relentless perseverance with playing out from the back and inviting pressure onto ourselves is no more. Gazzaniga is kicking long and we saw against Bournemouth how a more direct approach can reap dividends with Dele’s clever movement and Alderweireld’s long range homing missiles.

We’ve also learned that substitutions are permitted before the hour mark and we saw against Olympiakos that Jose will act early and decisively if required. Jose will adapt his tactics to the opposition. Poch rarely did.

But that doesn’t mean we’ll park the bus every week. The media like to paint Mourinho as the pantomime villain. It sells copy to create a narrative. Yes, we’ve seen some examples of “anti football” from Mourinho teams – Inter Milan against Barcelona in the 2010 Champions League semi final 2nd leg springs to mind. But there have also been plenty of examples of his teams playing exciting, attacking football.

Mourinho will get us to play football when the occasion permits but at other times we’ll adopt a more rigid defensive style. Whatever gets the job done. It’ll be different but we might need to suck up the games mired in negativity to reap the rewards.

Mourinho has a track record of getting the job done. Take for example Mourinho’s first taste of El Clásico – a chastening 5-0 defeat in November 2010, in which his team tried to go toe-to-toe with Barcelona and got taught a harsh lesson. It was the Blaugrana’s 5th consecutive league win over Los Blancos. Real looked light years behind their bitter rivals. Yet in the reverse fixture later that season Mourinho’s Madrid got a 1-1 draw and ended Barca’s winning sequence against them. It is worth noting that Real Madrid actually out-scored Barcelona in his first season in charge, registering 102 times in the league. The following season they went to the Camp Nou and won 2-1 and, by the end of that season, Mourinho had made them La Liga champions, once again outscoring Barcelona with an astonishing 121 goals in their 38 game campaign. That’s over 3 goals per game. Far from the negative fayre the media will tell you that he’s wedded to.

His time at Manchester United wasn’t as successful as he would have liked. I’m sure he was hurt by the criticism and the suggestion that his techniques are outdated; that he struggles to man manage the millennial generation. I think we’re now seeing the repercussions of that in his demeanour and in his new look coaching team. Let’s hope it endures.

Dele looks like a man reborn. Will he be Mourinho’s next Deco or Sneijder? Aurier has taken his game up a level in a slightly more advanced role on the right side of a lopsided back four. And he’s even got Sissoko scoring goals. We’re certainly getting the new manager bounce. In the space of a week, we’ve halved the gap between ourselves and the top 4. Up to 5th in the league and with Champions League knockout football secured, Levy’s decision is looking vindicated already. But tougher tests lie ahead, starting at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Whatever transpires, we now have in charge someone who has made winning his trademark. 8 league titles across four countries. Winning the Champions League at two different clubs, plus the UEFA Cup, Europa League and 8 domestic cups, amongst other silverware. All in the space of the last 16 years. For a club desperately in need of its first trophy since season 2007/08, appointing Jose has to be our best shot of ending that 12 year drought.

If he burns down the house at the end of it all then we’ll just have to be on hand to extinguish the flames and rally around the burnt out shell he leaves behind.

Love him or hate him, we’re stuck with him. It’s time to move on. It’s time to get behind him and his team and hope that he can find the formula to finally get us over the line. COYS!

Author

Craig Emanuel

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