Few managers in the world have been turned into a meme quite like Tottenham Hotspur’s Jose Mourinho.
Never one to conform to what the world wants from him, Mourinho’s personality and tactical setup have often been the subject of jokes online. Sometimes, it’s very justifiable because Mourinho is intentionally inflammatory, but other times, he gets stick for no reason.
The latest target on social media is Mourinho’s claim that Spurs did not deserve to lose 2-1 to Liverpool on Wednesday – comments which have been met with ridicule because Mourinho’s men mustered up just 24% possession in the game.
Sure, Spurs aren’t always easy on the eye, but to suggest they’re not playing to win games is somewhat naive.
In 2020, we expect football to be attractive. While they’re by no means founders of that movement, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have helped overthrow the narrative by encouraging high-possession, high-tempo football. It’s exciting, it’s fun and it’s successful.
There’s no denying that brand of football is more aesthetically pleasing, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to play football.
Mourinho does not conform to the modern norm. He has already laughed off the idea that possession is important, instead preferring an approach which favours results over anything else. You know, the only thing that actually matters.
Defending is almost a lost art these days. Full-backs are auxiliary wingers and centre-backs might as well be midfielders. Even goalkeepers operate as defenders these days. Everything is about possession and attacking.
With Mourinho, that’s not the case. He sets his side up to defend resolutely, knowing full-well that you can’t lose games if you don’t concede goals, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what won him three Premier League titles in the past. His 2004/05 Chelsea side, which conceded just 15 goals all season, is often described as one of the single-greatest teams in the league’s history.
Now, if Mourinho set his side up to only defend, claims that he favours ‘anti-football’ would be right, but that’s not the case. Instead of parking the bus, Spurs simply pick their moments.
Against Liverpool, Spurs did have the best chances. Son Heung-min took his goal well, Steven Bergwijn hit the post and Harry Kane missed the kind of header which he’ll probably never miss again.
They should have had three goals, and just because they should have done that with three shots instead of ten doesn’t mean it’s negative. It’s efficient.
Did they actually deserve to win the game? I’ll leave you to make your own mind up on that one, but if a team has multiple good chances and manages to keep one of Europe’s top attacks relatively quiet, you can’t say they deserved to lose.
Mourinho is happy to go against the norm, and the reason he’s so successful with it is that it is so against the norm. Nobody favours defence over attack these days, and preparing for a team who do so is nearly impossible because it’s just so alien.
Is that not the sign of a tactical genius?
Guardiola’s tiki-taka won plaudits because it was new and unstoppable. Klopp’s heavy-metal football did the same. Maurizio Sarri’s Sarri-ball, Antonio Conte’s three-at-the-backs – the list goes on. Managers are praised for coming up with something new and different.
Mourinho has done exactly that. but because most neutrals don’t enjoy watching it, he gets criticised instead.
This style is unlikely to lead a cultural revolution of its own. Mourinho’s tactics will offend more people than they impress, but he’s not in the dugout to increase Spurs’ popularity. The specific reason he was brought in was to win, and he’s on the right track.
Mourinho is not going to change. Comments on his Instagram calling him a dinosaur will just be laughed off. There’s nobody on the planet who cares less about criticism than Mourinho, who will take all the abuse in the world if it means he gets his hands on a trophy at the end of the season. You don’t have to be popular to be a Premier League champion.
Should that not be praised? To be bold enough to steer away from the crowd is one thing, but to turn that into success is even more impressive.
Rivals fans may not like it, and even some Spurs supporters will be watching their side through gritted teeth, but it’s something that we better get used to. Mourinho’s ‘anti-football’ is going nowhere.