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Premier League legend Jose Mourinho explains why he took on 'the Tottenham project'

Premier League legend Jose Mourinho explains why he took on 'the Tottenham project'

Weekend mornings haven’t been the same since the English Premier League paused its season. The EPL will be back later this month on NBC. Until then, NBC Sports Washington is devoting a week of stories to each of the Big 6 clubs in England: Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City. Because we miss the Premier League, too. 

Our third week begins with a look at Tottenham, a club with a massive fanbase that is always near the top of the table but has not won the league since 1961. New coach Jose Mourinho, no stranger to championships, looks to change that in the coming years.  

Things never really change at Tottenham. 

For the better part of a century, the London club has been a fixture near the top of the English soccer standings. But “near” is the operative word there. Tottenham Hotspur F.C. hasn’t won a title since 1961. 

That’s hard to take when almost all your biggest rivals – Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and, soon, Liverpool – have all celebrated league championships in recent years. 

Liverpool is well ahead of the pack with 82 points and is two wins away from clinching its first title since 1990 when the Premier League resumes on June 17 after months off due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Tottenham sits eighth at 41 points – exactly half of the first-place Reds, who they played for the Champions League title just last June.   

Spurs are almost never bad with top-six finishes each of the past 10 years. They finished second in 2016-17. But a slow start this season cost manager Mauricio Pochettino his job by Nov. 19. 

His replacement? Jose Mourinho, a legendary figure in the game, the self-described “Special One” who led Chelsea to three Premier League titles, Porto and Inter Milan to Champions League trophies with an unsuccessful stint at Manchester United in his recent past. 

“Of course, there are clubs where it is much easier to win,” Mourinho told Arlo White in an Inside the Mind interview in February. “But I was attracted by the Tottenham project.”

But Mourinho hasn’t left a strong imprint on his new club yet. If Tottenham has designs on building upon Pochettino’s success, it isn’t there so far at 8-3-6 with 30 points in 17 games since Mourinho took over. And Spurs haven’t yet played like a traditional Mourinho squad, either, with a solid defense behind an attacking midfield. They have allowed 23 goals in league play. 

“Is Jose Mourinho trying to move away slightly from that pragmatic approach given this squad, given what Spurs fans have historically liked to see?” NBC soccer analyst Robbie Mustoe asked on a May 2 edition of the Two Robbies podcast. “What we’ve seen so far, it’s a yes. Because they’re nowhere near defensively as good as we expect them to be. The other part is, if the players are good enough?”

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That remains to be seen. When the Premier League restarts, Tottenham will get back star striker Harry Kane, who had been out since January with what was supposed to be a season-ending hamstring injury. Kane had 17 goals in 25 games before his injury. Spurs are just four points behind Manchester United for fifth place with nine games to go. There’s still something to play for. 

And for Mourinho, who wore out his welcome during a second stint in Chelsea after winning another Premier League title there in 2015 and then struggled at Manchester United, maybe coaching an underdog will help him turn back the clock to his days at Porto when the Portugal side won the Champions League against far bigger clubs in 2004. 

“Is part of that [struggle] that the game’s moved on and his old ways are not as [strong]?” asked Robbie Earle on that episode of The Two Robbies podcast. “When [Mourinho] won the Champions League with Porto, they weren’t the best team in Europe. Nowhere near. But he found the system and worked with players who were not as good as the Real Madrid players and the Barcelona players. His Inter Milan team [in 2009], experienced players and a bit of know-how, they weren’t the best team in Europe. But he found a way to get it. That’s what he used to do. That’s what he’s got to do with this group. It might not be Manchester City’s quality of player, but this guy in the past has done it with a level below.”

Mourinho has Kane, one of the world’s great strikers at age 26, and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, 33, a World Cup winner with France. Deli Ali, 24, is a strong attacking midfielder. There is talent here. But Spurs needs to find a quality central defender during the transfer window later this summer and likely a holding midfielder, too. It's a work-in-progress, but one Mourinho was eager to take on after a year away from the game. 

“I am in a club that we can say is an outsider in every competition that we play,” Mourinho said. “But we know that we have the potential and we have the mission and we have the happiness. And this last word is very important to me: Happiness. Very important to be happy, very important to love the club that you work with, the players. And when I’m happy I know that I can influence the people that work with me to follow me. I like it.”

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MLS fans boo FC Dallas, Nashville SC players who took a knee during national anthem

MLS fans boo FC Dallas, Nashville SC players who took a knee during national anthem

As FC Dallas and Nashville SC players took a knee during the national anthem ahead of their match Wednesday, fans at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX began booing them. 

Nashville won the game 1-0, but that was seemingly the furthest thing from players' minds after the game. Dallas defender Reggie Cannon said he was disgusted by the fans booing the players' peaceful protest. 

"You can't even have support from your own fans in your own stadium," Cannon said, according to the Associated Press. "It's baffling to me. As a team we try to give the best possible product on the field and these last six months have been absolute hell for us. Absolute hell."

It was the first game for both teams since the 2020 season was suspended in March. Dallas and Nashville both had to wait to start their schedules due to positive coronavirus tests among players on each club.

RELATED: BILL HAMID SEEKS TO IMPROVE RACIAL EQUALITY IN SOCCER

Players across professional sports have been kneeling during the national anthem as their seasons have returned to play. George Floyd's death in late May sparked worldwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality, including Colin Kaepernick's original statement of kneeling during the anthem. 

Some, including President Donald Trump, have claimed kneeling during the anthem disrespects the American flag and the troops fighting overseas, leading to a mixed reaction to the demonstration depending on the audience. 

"We had someone chanting 'U.S.A.,' but they don't understand what kneeling means," Cannon said. "They don't understand why we're kneeling.

"It hurts me because I love our fans, I love this club, and I want to see the support that the league has given us, that everyone has given us, from our fans," he said.

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D.C. United's Bill Hamid explains how Black Players for Change seeks to improve soccer

D.C. United's Bill Hamid explains how Black Players for Change seeks to improve soccer

Over the last month, America has been having a long-overdue conversation about race, justice and equality in our society. At NBC Sports Washington, we wanted to further the dialogue by providing a forum for DMV-area sports figures who are thought leaders on these important issues.

NBC Sports Washington is launching the second part of an ongoing video series entitled Race in America. This week, Bill Hamid, Renaldo Wynn and Ish Smith joined Chis Miller for the second of these roundtable discussions to share their experiences, thoughts and how they’re using their platforms in this fight. To watch the full interview, click here.

Nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd have been necessary to light a fire under people in positions to make necessary changes to combat racial injustices.

Since the protests began nearly two months ago, no area of society has gone untouched by the current social justice movement, including sports. NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from its races, and drivers stood behind Bubba Wallace in unprecedented fashion after a noose-like rope was found in his garage. The NBA dedicated the rest of its season to shed light on racial injustices. And the NFL pledged a $250 million donation to help in the fight.

In soccer, Black MLS players took it into their own hands to create the change they wanted to see. Following Floyd’s death, over 70 players, including D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid created the Black Players Coalition of MLS, which has since been renamed Black Players for Change. 

Hamid talked about why the coalition was necessary on “Race in America,” a panel hosted by NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, where he was also joined by Wizards guard Ish Smith and former Washington defensive end Renaldo Wynn. He said the group's mission is to make a difference in inner-cities, whether it be with fees for kids to play soccer, childhood obesity, or mass incarceration.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the opportunity to speak about what would make a difference for us, what would help the Black player coming out of university or coming out of high school,” Hamid said. “How do we get into the inner city and into their cities and really make a difference? There’s not much of that going on, and we’ve seen that for a while, we’ve seen that for a long time. And a few of us came together and we said we need to start this. This is our opportunity.”

RACE IN AMERICA: WATCH BILL HAMID, ISH SMITH & RENALDO WYNN'S FULL DISCUSSION

Hamid said every single Black player in Major League Soccer is part of the group, which recently announced a partnership with the Players Coalition headed by the NFL’s Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins.

“I mean, the talks that we have, the Zoom calls that we put together, the insight from the oldest Black player in Major League Soccer to the very youngest, just giving everybody a voice to speak. What do we want to do? What changes do we want to make? It’s been one of the most powerful things I’ve ever been a part of in my life,” Hamid said.

Black Players for Change gives MLS an opportunity to be at the forefront of creating equality in a sport that has struggled to eliminate racism. Particularly in European leagues, Hamid said it’s an ongoing battle.

“Soccer has a lot of systemic racial issues going on, whether it be with agents, agencies, contracts dealing with a player of color, it’s tough,” Hamid said. “Fortunately, I’ve played most of my career in Washington, D.C., for D.C. United, so I haven’t seen too much racial bias, but I would say for a lot of other players and a lot of other leagues, bigger countries too, and they go to the countries to go with their family, and they’re the ultimate idea of the minority. So, the fan bases and the ultras, as they call them in soccer, I mean, from monkey chains to throwing bananas on the field -- that’s one of the more popular things that we’ve seen in European football -- bananas being thrown on the field from the fans. And players have been so emotional in the middle of games that they have to walk off the field."

Hamid said FIFA’s “Say No to Racism” campaign is an attempt to rid the sport of such hateful acts, but as is the case in America and around the world, there’s so much more work to be done.

“For some reason, it just hasn’t subsided. So, it’s an ongoing fight,” Hamid said. “Especially in soccer, it’s an ongoing fight. It’s a predominantly caucasian sport, and we still have to break through a lot of barriers as players of color. But that’s a fight that we’ve taken by starting the Black Players Coalition.”

You can watch the full panel by clicking here.

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