Rejuvenated Mourinho delivers on Tottenham debut
LONDON -- The circus which follows Jose Mourinho rolled into the London Stadium on Saturday.
The Special One is back.
Everyone has an opinion on Mourinho and on the way to the game all of chatter in the pubs and on tube in London was about what formation and players Mourinho would use. There were laughs about his first press conference, as this kind of analysis for an unveiling is reserved only for Jose.
His shock return to the Premier League, replacing Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham, divided opinion among Spurs’ fanbase as they didn’t sing his name until after the game, once their 3-2 victory had been secured. There is still some trepidation around Mourinho’s arrival at Tottenham, and he knows it.
The game itself was a resounding success for the legendary Portuguese coach as he guided Spurs to their first Premier League away win since January.
The 3-2 scoreline flattered West Ham as Spurs were lively in attack with Harry Kane holding the ball up as Heung-min Son, Lucas Moura and Dele Alli causing havoc behind him. Mourinho’s celebrations were wild on the sidelines as he sunk to his knees when they went 2-0 up but the knee slid didn’t work out. Still, he was feeling it.
Eric Dier and Harry Winks brought a pragmatic approach to the midfield in a 4-2-3-1 formation and Spurs should have won by a more comfortable margin. At the final whistle he waited on the pitch to congratulated all of his players one at a time.
He then reserved special praise for Dele Alli as the Amazon documentary cameras circled around his press conference.
“I think it was the old Dele Alli, the one from a couple of years ago who impressed not just England but the world,” Mourinho said. “He did exactly what I wanted him to do, with two days of work. Important selection of information, tried to make clear to him the spaces where we wanted him to play offensively and defensively. Very important for the team. Intelligent football player to understand what we wanted and really, really important for the team. He can be pleased with his performance.”
But this was mostly about Mourinho.
Photographers flanked his position in the dugout before the game. West Ham fans posed for selfies with the now manager of their bitter rivals. Cameras followed his walk into the stadium as he greeted the ball kids in the tunnel area with a high five and a smile, and a fist bump for some.
“The thing for me that was the most weird where I was going to football stadiums and I felt to myself ‘what am I doing here?’ In a box or in the TV studio, what am I doing here?,” Mourinho said when asked about his 11 months without a managerial job. “I belong there, that is where I belong. Today the feeling was I was where I belong. It is my natural habitat. Was I extra emotional? No. Was I nervous before the game? No. I just love it. Especially when things go in your direction. Of course, it is the best thing in football to win matches.”
Tottenham’s fans still have a mixed feeling about Mourinho arriving and Pochettino in a wild 12-hour period on Tuesday to Wednesday. There is a sense that things will unravel spectacularly under Mourinho with Chairman Daniel Levy a tough operator. Will Mourinho blow his lid during the upcoming transfer windows? Over the summer during preseason? Lose it with players who are trying to run down their contracts?
All of that fun will have to wait for another day because if anybody watched Spurs pummel a poor West Ham on Saturday, you could see there was more structure and direction to their play.
This win will help Spurs’ fans take to Mourinho, and if they beat Olympiakos on Tuesday to reach the UEFA Champions League last 16, he will be rocking and rolling. At Spurs he is in a more familiar territory, managing a team which is seen as an underdog and simply wants to win a trophy.
Mourinho is the right man for that, as his incredible success proves.
He played the humble card when referencing the fact that in his first game in charge he had led Spurs to their first away win since January.
“I’m not worried about my Tottenham career. I am worried about Tottenham and the players,” Mourinho said. “It was very, very important. 11 months without music in the away dressing room, without a smile, without happiness, they did it. I’m very happy with them, I’m very happy for them.”
Mourinho and Tottenham aren’t in love with one another yet, but there are signs that the Special One is just happy to get another opportunity in the Premier League and is eager to make the most of it. The way he celebrated and the fire in his eyes late on as he helped his team get over the line proved it.
And, whether people like him or not, the soccer world is happy to have him back.