So long to the childhood sweetheart, hello to the rebound trainwreck.
Imagine the trauma for Tottenham fans just hours after waving goodbye to their beloved manager only to find Jose Mourinho sitting in Poch’s favourite chair wearing a string vest and drinking a can of lager?
It’s always the kids who suffer most.
People often use the language of relationships when talking about clubs and their managers. They both follow the same basic trajectory. Gentle, agent-led flirtation. Excited scarf-above-the-head consummation. Brief, blissful contentment. Boredom. Bitter, rancorous breakdown. Costly separation.
How few get to live out their days holding hands with
Fergie on a park bench?
The laws of attraction that bring managers and clubs
together work the same way as affairs of the heart. Certain people at a certain time in their lives seem to make sense to each other, to offer completion.
So, what has brought Tottenham, the parsimonious, stylish champions of the glory game, into the arms of Jose Mourinho, the big-spending, malignant, dark lord of winning?
On the face of it there is one obvious reason why
Tottenham have left Mauricio Pochettino’s careful embrace to devil dance with Jose. Since Tottenham’s last trophy, the 2008 League Cup, Mourinho has won the Champions League, the Europa League, four league titles, and four cups.
Jose wins, Tottenham don’t. Easy.
Jose wins, but what about the rest of it? What about the gracelessness, the narcissism, the toxic dressing rooms? What about the self-serving press conferences, the tedious, brutalist football, the inevitable corrosive decline that follows the ill-gotten glory?
Well, nobody’s perfect!
Love is blind and Tottenham have chosen not to see those things. They are emotional, they are vulnerable and right now Jose is what they think they need. If Pochettino was their great romance, with Jose they are shacked up in a cheap motel on a massive bender, drawing the curtains tight to the morning sun and putting off the moment when the headache begins to pound and they think “what the hell have I done?” On the plus side, they might win the FA Cup.
It’s a testament to Brand Jose that he still represents something that top clubs reach for at times like this. The trophy-laden CV is undeniable, but the meltdowns at Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Manchester United would have sullied most careers in terms of high-end appeal.
But, you know, it’s Mourinho. So here he is again, the lizard smile in a crisp white shirt, posing with another jersey at another training ground and another set of fans dealing with a strange mix of horror and
excitement that whatever happens, at least it will be interesting and people will be talking about us.
Mourinho’s battalion of PR worker bees have kept busy since he was turfed out of Old Trafford last December, nudging his name into the reckoning in sundry elite managerial gossip columns. Jose Mourinho is now ready to return to work, we read. Jose Mourinho is monitoring the situation at Real Madrid. Jose Mourinho would consider Bayern Munich. Jose for Arsenal? PSG? Maybe. He’d deign to think about it, we were told by mysterious sources.
He popped up on Sky Sports. He spoke about low blocks and tactical schema. Statesmanlike. We were impressed. The scowling bore last seen repeatedly ramming Marouane Fellaini into opposing defences was forgotten. This was the resetting of Jose: clever, cunning, erudite, urbane. Sharp suits, expensive watches, big time. Famous. A winner. Jose.
It was only a matter of time. At this stage of his career, Jose Mourinho can be seen as the big club Big Sam. Where Allardyce is the go-to man when smaller clubs face the existential threat of relegation, Jose is who big clubs reach for when they fear a loss of their own status — that sense of being big.
They hope he will win trophies, but that matters less than the sense of reassurance he provides to them. Of course, we are big, our
manager is Jose Mourinho. His status is an affirmation when their world is falling apart. Who he is has become more important than what he does. He is not a manager, he is a brand partnership.
For Tottenham, these fears are very real. Mauricio Pochettino achieved Champions League qualification for four consecutive seasons on a wage budget which ranked sixth in the Premier League. Tottenham’s status as a top four club rather than a flibbertigibbet Europa League scrapper is down to what Pochettino achieved.
He spoke of harnessing energies and the power of lemons, maybe he was some kind of mystic?
But now that he is gone, is that status a fantasy? Will the gleaming new stadium turn into a pumpkin? Will the magic beer taps stop working? Will it all vanish in a puff of smoke? Will Harry Kane?
Tottenham are cold and lonely and there’s a charming yet weirdly sinister Portuguese man conveniently close at hand. Hey, the heart wants what it wants, but it will cost Spurs to live out this desperate rebound fumble with Mourinho. They will have to give him money to spend and then they will have to give him money to go away, money they could have given Pochettino when he asked for it two years ago.
Every time a club hires a manager they think it will be a fantastic marriage, a glorious affair of the heart, like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. This marriage feels more like Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky, the construction worker Liz met in rehab only to pay off when she sobered up.
It’s the kids I feel sorry for.
Garrett Fitzgerald Interview Part 2: Munster highs, lows and controversies. And the loss of Axel