It will take a while to grow accustomed to the sight of Jose Mourinho in Tottenham Hotspur colours. Indeed, images of the Portuguese’s first training session as the North London club’s new manager were like something from an alternate universe, a universe where there are no rules on what can and can’t happen in football.
As quickly as Mauricio Pochettino was out, sacked on Tuesday evening, Mourinho was in, appointed on Wednesday morning. For a squad of players, every change in manager comes with a lot of questions, but the Spurs players who turned up to training for Mourinho’s first session surely had more questions than is usually the case.
On the face of things, Mourinho isn’t the most natural of fits for Tottenham. This is a club which under Pochettino became the epitome of modern footballing thinking, a platform for young players and one of the most exciting teams to watch in the Premier League. Nothing witnessed so far over the course of Mourinho’s managerial career suggests he will sustain this.
And so it’s reasonable to assume that the former Chelsea and Manchester United boss will mould Tottenham’s squad in his own identity rather than bending his own principles to fit that of his new employers. That puts the necks of numerous players on the line. Mourinho will be ruthless, as he always is, in his assessment of his new group.
Mourinho is known for demanding defensive effort from his attackers, particularly his wide attackers. This is what left the Portuguese coach unimpressed with Anthony Martial during his time at Man Utd. It didn’t matter that the Frenchman was among the most talented at Old Trafford because he didn’t satisfy Mourinho’s demands.
Over five years at the helm Pochettino built a team adept at pressing high up the pitch and so Mourinho has inherited a squad that will stand a good chance of absorbing his methods and ideas. But the likes of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Lucas Moura will still be expected to do more, to track back more, to cover space more effectively.
Heung-min Son’s inherent energy and drive should stand him in good stead. Indeed, the South Korean will surely keep his place as a key part of Tottenham’s team under Mourinho. Eriksen, however, could find himself ostracised to an even greater extent than he was under Pochettino. The Dane is a similar sort of player, at least in terms of style, to Juan Mata and the patchy relationship between the Spaniard and Mourinho was well documented.
In midfield, Mourinho will have more to work with than he did at Man Utd. Tanguy Ndombele might be the player the Portuguese wanted Paul Pogba to be, a player capable of winning the ball back, but also capable of picking a pass to unlock an opposition defence. And in defence Spurs boast one of the best foundations in the Premier League.
Of course, Toby Alderweireld was once a target for Mourinho while at Man Utd so it’s safe to assume he is still a fan of the Belgian. Then there’s Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez. If Mourinho has a deficiency within his new squad it’s in the full back area, where Kieran Trippier was sold without a replacement being signed over the summer and Danny Rose still has his critics.
Ryan Sessegnon, Troy Parrott, Oliver Skipp, Juan Foyth and Kyle Walker-Peters might all fear for their immediate futures given Mourinho less-than-impressive record in bringing through young players, but it’s otherwise easy to see why he was so keen to take over at Spurs. In terms of footballing philosophy, the two are something of an odd couple, but Mourinho will still have a lot to work with.