A year to the day since Ricardo Formosinho arrived at Tottenham Hotspur alongside Jose Mourinho, and the former assistant is convinced the club are now genuine Premier League title contenders.
Formosinho was part of Mourinho’s coaching staff upon his appointment at Spurs 12 months ago, the new team installed almost immediately after Mauricio Pochettino’s five-and-a-half-year tenure was brought to an end by chairman Daniel Levy.
Serving principally as tactical analyst, Formosinho left the London club in August to pursue a career as a head coach – with Mourinho’s blessing.
He is based now in his native Portugal, considering offers from Europe and the Middle East, but remains in contact with Mourinho and is a keen observer of Spurs’ development, as his compatriot, a three-time Premier League winner, stamps his mark on the squad.
With the Premier League resuming on Saturday, Spurs sit second in the table and unbeaten since their opening-day defeat to Everton. Sixth last season, and having taken more points since Mourinho’s appointment than the rest of the league bar Liverpool and Manchester City. Spurs are being considered, in some quarters, as potential title challengers.
Formosinho, he says, always expected the steep ascent.
"Nothing's surprised me because Jose is the best coach in the world," he tells The National.
“I know what Jose can do. But, for sure, the Tottenham this season play better football than the Tottenham last season, because Jose needs time. All coaches need it.
“If Jose can do a great thing with a small team, he can transform a very good team. But it doesn’t surprise me, because I believe and trust in Jose.”
Formosinho feels the greatest progress made in the team has been their ambition and subsequent ability to win matches. Spurs are second only to Chelsea in goals scored this league season (19), while they boast the division’s joint best defence (nine conceded).
In 15 matches across all competitions, Spurs have scored 38 goals. Mentality, a constant refrain since Mourinho joined, has been key.
“All of us – the staff – follow the instruction of Jose,” Formosinho says of the former Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester United manager. “Jose is a coach with a big, big, big ambition. He looks always, every time, to win. Only one way: win. And he talked to us that we have to help him to support the players mentally.
“That’s the big change of the team, to the coach before… and Pochettino is a top coach, a great coach… but Jose is a different guy, a different coach. More aggressive. It’s win, win, win.
“Nobody can forget the players are young guys. They’re 22, 23, 24, 25. Some of them are kids. If you can get inside their mind, that’s the best thing. That’s the information Jose passed to us: we have to give the players confidence. It was always based around this.
“Good confidence, and show to them that to win is much better than losing. The players have to understand, to do everything every day just to allow the good performance to win. Let’s go to win, play to win. Every game is just to look for that.”
Looking now from the outside, Formosinho is certain Spurs possess a “great mentality”, evidenced by recent hard-fought, single-goal victories against Burnley, Brighton & Hove Albion, and West Bromwich Albion. The latter was sealed just before the international break.
He says the deepened grit is the product of Mourinho’s time spent with the players, from the daily emphasis on accepting only success, to coaxing the best from an increasingly talented group. Formosinho is reluctant to speak about individuals, but record signing Tanguy Ndombele has improved noticeably this season.
“They have had time to improve,” Formosinho says. “It’s not easy to have the time to speak to the players. Each one is different; nobody is the same. But all of them follow Jose; that’s why Jose now is very, very happy. Because the players are following his ideas, this strong mentality, this mentality to win. The players know if you sign Jose, it’s only to win, win, win.”
Formosinho, who worked with Mourinho at Porto, Madrid and United too, accepts that his former colleague seems happier than he did at Old Trafford, although he points to three trophies in two and a half years – the 2016/17 Europa League the highlight – as proof he enjoyed his time there.
And that, apparently, spells promise for Spurs: a more contented Mourinho makes his team even more dangerous.
“Yes, for sure,” Formosinho says. “It’s normal. I believe that Tottenham this season will win some titles. If you ask can Tottenham win the Premier League, yes they can. As you know, the Premier League is not easy to win, because five or six teams can do it. But I believe they can win the Premier League and other titles this season.
“Because the players are good, they have the best coach in the world, Jose has a very good strategy, and the players believe in him. It’s very important.
“I see that the players now follow the coach, because they understand that Jose is the best one in strategy, the best coach possible. And if the players believe in him, they are in the right way.”
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Mourinho has been helped, no doubt, by astute investment in the squad. Spurs made a number of impressive signings in the recent window, including full-backs Matt Doherty and Sergio Reguilon, and midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. Returning on an initial season-long loan from Madrid, Gareth Bale represents the marquee acquisition.
“To me, the most important player Tottenham bought this season is all of them,” Formosinho says. “Not one, not another one; all are very good players. All improve the squad. And all have a very good mentality.
“The best players need very good players around them. And this season, for sure Tottenham bought very good players. The other players, like for example Harry Kane, if he has good players around him, he improves even more. That’s it.”
As ever, Kane has been a standout, although in what feels a slightly different role. Dropping deeper more often than he had previously, the England striker has been directly involved in 23 goals, scoring 13 and assisting 10.
His partnership with Son Heung-min, in particular – they are now the second-best tandem for goals in Premier League history, with 29 – has been integral to Spurs’ form, something Formosinho says Mourinho has worked extensively on.
“Harry Kane is one of the best strikers in the world, not only in England,” Formosinho says. “Last season, he had some injuries, but now this season he is very, very good. No injuries, top fitness, strong. And when Harry Kane has good fitness and a good mind, he’s a top, top striker. And his combination with Son is perfect.
“As you can see, the speed of the execution from Harry Kane and the speed of anticipation from Son. Because when Harry receives the ball he just looks for Son, and Son understands perfectly want he needs to do. They are good friends out of the pitch; they have a very good connection.
“It’s natural, but it’s also session training. It’s Jose analysing and exploring the individual quality of these players and all the team. Every day the team worked on this – good combination, good combination, good combination.”
Close to Mourinho for almost two decades, dating back to their working relationship at Porto in the early 2000s, Formosinho is sure the Spurs manager is as driven to succeed at the club as he has been at any point in his celebrated career.
“Absolutely,” he says. “Jose is 57 years old, but his motivation is like he is 20, 25. Jose feels a big motivation always. He loves football; day-by-day he lives for football. And it’s only positive for Tottenham.”