Tottenham had just announced their participation in a division where poor results will carry no penalty when they sacked a manager after a wretched run. Spot the contradiction. Perhaps Jose Mourinho is the first manager in the European Super League to be fired. He is at least blameless there, but culpable in the Premier League.
Spurs were top in December and are seventh in April. No wonder they want a world without Champions League qualification. It is increasingly unsurprising they would prefer one without Mourinho. This season has become a huge missed opportunity, a way of undoing Mauricio Pochettino’s legacy and further proof of the decline of a manager whose greatness is firmly confined in the past.
Even Sunday’s League Cup final against Manchester City, potentially bringing Spurs’ first silverware since 2008, was not enough to delay his departure. Mourinho was supposed to be the guarantee of glory; instead, for the first time since his 20-game stint in charge of Uniao de Leiria 20 years ago, he leaves a club without winning anything.
That adds an element of novelty, but the rest of Mourinho’s demise felt all so familiar it amounts to an indictment of Daniel Levy for appointing him. This was utterly predictable.
The only differences were that it unravelled quicker and that the indignities were bigger. A supposed specialist in the short term did not even achieve success then. Mourinho used to win the league in his second season everywhere; at Manchester United his sophomore campaign ended in second.
He leaves Spurs after 17 months, with fewer highs – a 6-1 win at Old Trafford, a couple of victories over Pep Guardiola and Manchester City and a pair of North London derby triumphs – and his greatest low, the Europa League defeat to Dinamo Zagreb, arguably the worst result by any English club in Europe for the best part of 20 years.
He goes when Harry Kane is clearly considering his future; along with Heung-Min Son, Tanguy Ndombele and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, he is perhaps only one of four to perform to their capabilities this season. That the striker has registered 21 goals and 13 assists underlines Mourinho’s underachievement; with an elite player in sensational form, Spurs have still floundered.
If footballers used to want to play for Mourinho, now dressing rooms are alienated. Where there were loyalists, he generated dissidents at Real Madrid, Chelsea, United and now Spurs. It is hard to escape the conclusion that he does not relate to a younger generation.
Perhaps Mourinho thought he was accomplishing something by scapegoating and marginalising Dele Alli; instead one of England’s finest talents has just had a bit-part role. Gareth Bale had a golden month; otherwise Mourinho has got little from him.
He has made his squad less than the sum of their considerable parts. He used to be a byword for clarity of thought but chopped and changed his team and altered his system; the consequences of mistakes brought fearful football. If Pochettino’s positivity was often reflected on the pitch, so was Mourinho’s negativity. Spurs lost an ethos, an identity and an energy, the factors that had propelled them forwards.
His constant carping was counter-productive. The tactic of trying to shift the blame – for dropping deep, conceding late goals, poor defending or bad results – was utterly transparent. It was tempting to wonder what Mourinho thought a £15 million-a-year manager was for, given his refusal to take responsibility for anything that went wrong.
And much did. Mourinho suffered 10 league defeats in a season, for the first time. Since December’s win against Arsenal, Spurs have more losses than wins. They have dropped 20 points from winning positions and a bottom-half record in the last four months. He turned toxic; he always seems to.
He represented Levy’s folly, a chairman blinded by stardust hiring an anachronism. Perhaps he will be the last to make the Mourinho mistake.
The Portuguese’s final home game concluded in strange fashion, with an odd row about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer over parenting. That was Mourinho, entertaining and quotable off the pitch but, with chances of a top-four finish disappearing, losing and failing on it. And, in the final irony, Spurs borrowed from his playbook with the diversionary tactic. He was sacked as they used the Super League furore to deflect attention from their managerial problems.