José Mourinho, Dogs, Cats, and Football’s Better Call Saul.

December 1, 2019 By Ben Victor

José Mourinho, Dogs, Cats, and Football’s Better Call Saul.

The Myth of Attacking Football

For all the talk about football being an attacking sport, it generally devotes more personnel and attention to defending than attacking. With the disappearance of the fad of the attacking playmaker, only three players are out-and-out attacking players. And even these three are supposed to offer defensive support.

Think about Liverpool, perhaps the most thoughtfully assembled squad in England. Roberto Firmino, the team’s focal point, makes similar tackles and interceptions to a ball-winning midfielder. Of course, one could argue they have marauding fullbacks, but if Trent Alexander-Arnold or Robertson slack defensively, they are as good as toast. Football is built on defensive foundation, then the attacking flair as a top-up. Football then, is a defensive sport.

“If he defends well, he draws 0-0 against Monaco and wins in Monte Carlo. It’s not easy to defend. If it was easy, you wouldn’t lose 3-1 at home to Monaco,” 

Mourinho

There is also the myth in football that defending is easy. A myth that Arsène Wenger once tried to peddle about José Mourinho. Only for Mourinho to school the Professor on the art of defending to win a European tie. Then, Arsenal was handed (an easy) knockout tie, against AS Monaco. The result? Wengerball was blown away by an exciting young Monaco team featuring Fabinho, Yannick Carrasco, Antony Martial, Bernardo Silva, and the immaculate Bulgarian forward, Dimitar Berbatov. Arsenal lost 1-3 at the Emirates, then went out on away goals despite winning 2-0 in Monte Carlo.

José said of Wenger, “If he defends well, he draws 0-0 against Monaco and wins in Monte Carlo. It’s not easy to defend. If it was easy, you wouldn’t lose 3-1 at home to Monaco,” Wenger, like the rest of football, of course, never listens to Mourinho nor adheres to his pragmatism. Wenger’s last season at Arsenal saw his team ship 51 league goals, and he’s not managed since. All the while, Mourinho is back, reborn. Just when football needed him.

A Smiling Mourinho at his unveiling (Getty Images)

The truth is, since his time at Madrid, Mourinho has not been the same. And maybe, just maybe, Tottenham Hotspur is Mourinho trying to fix how Real Madrid broke him.

Tottenham, a fit for Mourinho?

Tottenham Hotspur is an interesting destination for a manager of José Mourinho’s pedigree. Or maybe not, if you take a glance at Mourinho’s entire managerial career. Having moved from humble FC Porto to oil-rich Chelsea, then to ageing Internazionale, followed by a stint at Real Madrid, Tottenham would be Mourinho’s third English club since. Mourinho has been on a charm offensive at Tottenham. This is quite unlike his arrogance when he burst into the scene in English Football. Then, he declared himself “The Special One” and confessed, “I’m sorry, I am a bit arrogant (I am) a top manager.”

Or that one time he decided to school journalists on Football Heritage on how he was the best Manchester United manager since Sir Alex Fergusson retired. The truth is, since his time at Madrid, Mourinho has not been the same. And maybe, just maybe, Tottenham Hotspur is Mourinho trying to fix how Real Madrid broke him.

A seeming broken Mourinho at Real Madrid
A seeming broken Mourinho at Real Madrid (Getty Images)

Madrid, Success or Disaster?

José Mourinho committed to Real Madrid even before the Champions League win with Inter. His career was on the ascendency, and other than Barcelona, you cannot go higher than Real Madrid. Madrid was made for Mourinho, and Mourinho for Madrid, or so it looked. The rivalry with Barcelona and a point to prove was all the abrasive Mourinho needed to thrive.

Inter was a good spell, but it was all too nice. It was all comfortable and boring by Mourinho’s nature. Mourinho is a man who loves blood, and a chance to dismantle the club that rejected him for untested Pep Guardiola was all too good to pass on.

In the 11/12 season, Mourinho’s side racked a record 100 points, scored a record 121 goals.  It is also under José Mourinho that Ronaldo first scored over 40 league goals.the

By and large, despite little success in terms of silverware, Mourinho’s three-year spell at Real Madrid was exciting. In two of his three seasons, his team scored more goals than Barcelona. This is despite Barcelona being the supposed offensive team, and Mourinho’s Real, the defensive team. In the 11/12 season, Mourinho’s side racked a record 100 points, scored a record 121 goals.  

It is also under José Mourinho that Ronaldo first scored over 40 league goals, and then started scoring for fun day-in-day-out. Mourinho took Real Madrid to three Champions League semifinals. This may look like a small feat until you consider that in six seasons before Mourinho, Real Madrid had not progressed past the Round of 16.

However, when the history books remember Mourinho’s spell at Madrid, none of that will matter. People will remember him pocking Tito Villanova, his feud with Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, and Ronaldo, and his ultimate toxic departure. The thing is, Real Madrid’s subsequent success was built on Mourinho’s blueprint. He made Real Madrid gung-ho.

Unfortunately, Real Madrid is no Porto or Chelsea. Fans do not remember the 32nd domestic title, they remember how pragmatic the football was, and how toxic and damaging Mourinho’s relationship was with club, fans, and players. Mourinho’s spell at Real is a disaster for fans because they wanted their team to play like Barcelona.

At Spurs, winning the FA Cup would enshrine Mourinho into the club’s Hall of Fame. 

No disrespect to Tottenham, but Spurs very much resembles the platforms where Mourinho has dazzled the world and won fans over. At Porto, he inherited a struggling team and led them to that rare European triumph. At Chelsea, he took over a club that had never won the domestic title and delivered the domestic title. At Inter, he took over a team that craved the European title and delivered.

Not so at Real Madrid where success is the expected norm, not wowed upon. Or his second stint at Chelsea, where he delivered a title to little fanfare. Or that disastrous spell at Manchester United, a job that has proven impossible for half a dozen managers since Ferguson retired. At Spurs, winning the FA Cup would enshrine Mourinho into the club’s Hall of Fame.

Mourinho lifts the European title with Internazionale (Getty Images)

Harry Kane, Mourinho’s Hunting Cat or Dog?

Spurs is Mourinho’s template club. A club without a domestic title since 1961. Spurs is more or less Chelsea FC in 2004 when Mourinho took over. Like Chelsea, then under the Italian tinker man, Spurs have enjoyed a relatively stable last five years under Pochettino. Mourinho may just be the man to inject that final push to jolt them to silverware. José has a foundation to build on.

For instance, bar this season, Spurs have been one of the best defensive units in the league. The aging Belgian duo of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are an experienced pairing, just like Mourinho likes his centre back; old, reliable, and experienced. In Tanguy Ndombele and whatever permutation, he has a midfield two that he can mold to his liking. Upfront, Heung-min Son, Lucas, Eriksen, and Alli should offer enough creativity.

In Harry Kane, Mourinho has a dog he can go hunting with, not cats like the Antony Martials and Karim Benzemas of seasons past. Tireless workhorses like Eric Dier and World Cup winner Moussa Sissoko are just the guys Mourinho loves in his team. Really, the Tottenham squad is good enough for José Mourinho to operate with.

When everyone is hungry, José Mourinho is the man you call.

Mourinho, Football’s Better Call Saul?

Unlike Real Madrid and Manchester United, where boardroom politics and dressing room egos reign, Spurs is a hungry team. Player hunger is a prerequisite for Mourinho’s success. Without it, everything falls apart. For instance, no one doubts the talents of Paul Pogba or Anthony Martial, but they are not players who would bleed for the team. In the Porto team, as Ryan Ferguson recalls, “Mourinho sought a hungrier style from his players; an English passion mixed with splashes of Portuguese flair.

The same was true of his assembled squad in the treble-winning Internazionale season. His aging squad of Zanetti, Motta, Maicon, Cambiasso, and Eto’o had seen the lot in the game and were hungry for more.

In the past few years, Spurs have competed but fell short. The players are hungry to win. Harry Kane, the stand-in captain, admitted earlier in the season that “We’ve got a good, hungry squad,” The club and fans are hungry for some silverware. Shrewd Levy is hungry for a trophy parade. When everyone is hungry, José Mourinho is the man you call. Mourinho at Spurs, like the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul, is football’s never-ending spin-off.

Mourinho, Football’s Saul Goodman

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