Jose Mourinho is top of the Premier League. We didn’t expect this. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
He was a busted flush. A beaten docket. Off to join the choir invisible in the Sky Sports studio.
Tottenham were getting damaged goods. Buying from a dog-eared brochure. This was a managerial heritage act, chugging out old hits the kids of today had never heard of.
By now, a year in, the jig was supposed to be up. He would have fallen out with Harry Kane, put Moussa Sissoko up front, and wheeled Nemanja Matic in on a gurney.
It should be full trainwreck mode at this stage. Tantrums and tiaras. Sneering at the little people in press conferences. Gloria Swanson in a tracksuit: I am still big, it’s the clubs that got small.
This would all be happening faster than normal because everyone knew the script so well. The law of diminishing returns would apply. We’d be at the bitter endgame in no time. And this was Tottenham, famous for ignoring the ‘Do Not Touch’ sign on the self-destruct button.
That’s what was supposed to happen.
Instead, Jose appears to have gotten his famous ‘mojo’ back. The whereabouts of Jose’s mojo are a subject of frequent speculation. Jose, it seems, treats his mojo like an older gentleman does his reading glasses, misplacing it with increasing frequency as the years advance.
But here we are, mojo happily intact. So far, Tottenham and Jose Mourinho has turned out to be a marriage made in heaven, instead of being like that time Elizabeth Taylor got hitched to a construction worker.
The two have been strangely compatible. The discredited, washed up old coach and the struggling young misfits. Think of the John Candy character and the Jamaican bobsleigh team in Cool Runnings. Yes, Jose is like old Irv Blitzer, shrugging off his demons and making dreams come true for his eager hopefuls.
That might seem like a stretch. After all, weren’t Tottenham in the Champions League final just 18 months ago? Hadn’t Mauricio Pochettino kept them in the top four, a confirmed member of the Premier League elite? And with a big new fancy stadium to boot?
But how often during that time were they genuine title challengers? They were more like minor members of the royal family in a scene from The Crown, often in the picture but never likely to inherit the top job. Tottenham were the Premier League’s Prince Edward.
Nearly 60 years since their last championship, turning Spurs into true title contenders is a feat on a par with getting a Jamaican bobsleigh team to the Olympics, if that is not to disrespect the proud traditions of Caribbean winter sports.
A long way to go, as the Jamaicans probably thought shortly before their sled turned upside down on the icy Calgary track (spoiler alert). On Sunday, Tottenham face Chelsea, with Arsenal, Liverpool, and Leicester to come, part of a pre-Christmas rush that, taken with last Saturday’s win over Manchester City, will test their roadworthiness.
Proof that Mourinho was seen as yesterday’s coach comes by looking at those around him. These days, nobody wants to be like Mourinho, just like scruffy old Irv Blitzer when he turns up at the Olympics and is sneered at by all the new-fangled bobsleigh coaches with their monogrammed bomber jackets.
Take his opposite number on Sunday, Frank Lampard. If anyone would adopt the Mourinho method — iron-clad defence, rapid counter-attack, general bastardry — then surely it would be the man whose playing career flowered under Jose in his Chelsea pomp?
These are two men whose bond was famously forged in the Stamford Bridge showers when Jose informed a bollock-naked Lampard that he was the best player in the world. Lampard, not wishing to prolong the conversation, had no choice but to do his best on that front.
But encounters with naked men in showers do not lifelong fidelity guarantee. Lampard has instead gone the way of the modern supercoach, another smart casual smoothie among the army of contemporary progressives inhabiting the top jobs.
His football philosophy, though tempered a little this season, has leant towards the high defensive blocks and synchronised attacking patterns favoured by the Germano-Catalan school. Not for him the Mourinho war machine, burning villages as it clanks through enemy terrain.
His press conference persona could not be more different either, with its amiable asides and no-but-seriously measuredness. Where Mourinho ranged the narrow gamut between sadistic commandant and delightfully bonkers Bond villain, Lampard is more like your older sister’s sound boyfriend, who’ll buy you beer if you ask him, but not spirits.
In Tottenham’s Amazon Prime documentary there is a moment when Lampard appears on the TV in the Spurs canteen.
“Good guy?” asks Christian Eriksen. “Frank? Yeah,” Mourinho answers.
“Professional as a player. The best I’ve ever seen.”
There’s sadness in Mourinho’s eyes, mixed with the admiration, as if recalling the time when he was the trusting young coach with the dutiful lieutenants and the millions of Roman Abramovich to help him on his way.
Still, from what we saw in the documentary, Mourinho looks content now.
When he joined United they released a video showing him meeting Bobby Charlton in the car park, meant to signify grudging acceptance from the Old Trafford gods for the grubby little man who was now their manager.
In the Tottenham documentary, the welcome is rather different: The club is abuzz, players gossip excitedly about what he’ll be like; Daniel Levy hangs around the canteen constantly hoping for a word; Harry Kane stares at him with hungry eyes, happily making the Faustian pact: my soul is yours, Jose, in exchange for a trophy.
One expects that, like the Jamaican bobsledders, the wheels will come off for Tottenham just as they are rounding the final bend. But maybe the crowd will cheer them home anyway and Jose, like the sadly entirely fictional character of Irv Blitzer, will finally find love and acceptance.
Now that definitely wasn’t supposed to happen.