Jose Mourinho must make Tottenham worth watching – something he still hasn't managed
Tottenham are dreadful at the moment. They’re slow, dull and fragile and every aspect of their game has worsened since Jose Mourinho was appointed.
That isn't necessarily Mourinho’s fault, of course, because it’s common to see chaos before any meaningful improvement. Nevertheless, what’s striking about his Spurs is just how little momentum they’ve acquired from his taking over and how few ideas they appear to have as a result of it.
That poverty is the greatest concern. New coaching teams can take months or even years to realise their vision, but there’s typically some suggestion early on of which path they intend to follow. With Mourinho and his assistants, that’s currently limited to slow, stale possession phases of no craft, or direct, back-to-front football of limited success.
It would be more reassuring, for instance, if some kind of plan was detectable. If – say – the team was having encouraging moments, but being undermined by mental errors or the need for investment. Then, supporters could identify the beginnings of something and understand what it is that Mourinho has been hired to do.
Which, at the moment, isn't obvious. In this situation, it’s not enough just to say that Daniel Levy recruited Mourinho to make Tottenham better or to requalify for the Champions League. Those are broad aims and they matter, but this is the era of ideologies, philosophies and belief systems, meaning that appointments will always come with a sub-text about what they represent.
In that regard, Mourinho is playing an unfair game. He comes with so much baggage that it’s impossible not to prejudge him. When he begins a new job it’s never with a clean slate, but instead with the world watching and waiting for signs that it will be exactly as it was before, searching for early evidence of his notorious doom cycle.
It’s inconvenient for him, not least because it exposes him to far harsher assessment. Tottenham supporters have not been quiet in their dissatisfaction and are evidently uncomfortable with this new, rhythmless football that their side is playing. They also recognise, most likely, that Mourinho has had precious little time to actually coach the team and, importantly, is also dealing with exhausted players who have been over-exposed during the Christmas period.
But this is an uneasy truce and so urging patience just won’t do. Spurs fans have their team’s interests at heart and will afford Mourinho the necessary leeway to carry out his redesign. They’ll even support him while he works, but only after he reveals what he’s taking them towards.
It’s an unusual situation, but the burden is really on him to win that affection. At the moment, the relationship is a distant one. It's a very half-hearted embrace. The idea of Jose Mourinho coaching Tottenham is still strange and the actual optics are even more bizarre. But there’s an emotional hesitation, too, and a reluctance to engage until what 'this' is has a proper defininition.
Why is Mourinho really in North London? How will he really be behaving in six months, when he hasn’t been given the money he’s always, always needed?
Whether those suspicions are right is neither here nor there. That they exist at all is everything, unfortunately, because until they’re disproven there can be no trust. And without trust, it’s unrealistic to expect any sort of patience with muddle tactics and directionless play.
Instead, there has to be something to believe in. Not a finished product or a team in perfect harmony, but just some sense that this project will be worth watching and have a middle and an ending different from what has been seen before. On current evidence, on the basis of the witless football and the increasingly tetchy behaviour in front of the media, that isn’t the case.
Spurs will lose to Liverpool at the weekend. Badly so, most likely. But once that's over and those points have been lost, Mourinho must start to build something which is worth watching. Something which actually looks like it's under construction and inspires a leap of faith.
While you're here, why not take advantage of our brilliant subscribers' offer? Get the game's greatest stories and best journalism direct to your door for only £9.50 every quarter – just £2.90 an issue. Cheers!