Little more than six months ago, Tottenham were celebrating what may yet prove to be the high water mark for Jose Mourinho’s tenure.
Six goals on a triumphant return to Old Trafford and Manchester United languished in 16th, as doubts swirled around the future of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Spurs finished the day in sixth, which is precisely where they sit just three points from West Ham in fourth, and yet the mood is drastically different.
Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho is under huge pressure to deliver silverware amid a tough term
Spurs scored six goals on a triumphant return to Old Trafford for Mourinho last October
‘A victory of the squad, a victory of confidence,’ declared Jose Mourinho after the rout in October, a fifth game in 11 days during a congested opening to the new campaign.
‘Same coach, different players,’ was his riposte on Sunday when a late equaliser conceded by his team at Newcastle prompted a question about why a coach who had forged a reputation on tight defence could no longer defend a lead.
Absolving himself of blame and pointing the finger at his players was never going to win him favour in the dressing room. Nor was his decision to ‘out’ Toby Alderweireld and Serge Aurier for returning ‘late’ from international duty, although Alderweireld insists he was back on time.
There were echoes of Mourinho’s comments to explain Gareth Bale’s absence in a defeat at Everton in the FA Cup.
The mood now is very different, having outed stars like defender Toby Alderweireld recently
A post on Bale’s Instagram account made it seem as though he had been raring to go, prompting the Spurs boss to reveal the Wales striker was ‘not feeling good’ and had requested a scan, which showed no injury but he did not want to go against his player’s feelings.
Since he first arrived in English football for his first spell at Chelsea in 2004, Mourinho has always operated by a code that he will fight to defend players and shield them from criticism if he feels they are fighting for him.
If not, protection is withdrawn and he goes public with things he might have kept private.
Since his return from Real Madrid for a second spell at Chelsea in 2013, he has appeared much quicker to go public with his criticism.
Perhaps it is his own ego out of control as some like to claim. Perhaps it is down to the mentality of modern footballers.
There were echoes of his comments to explain Gareth Bale’s absence in a defeat by Everton
The warrior breed with which Mourinho liked to stock his teams is certainly in decline. Indeed, he seems to have concluded that too many of those with enough quality at Spurs lack the right attitude, and too many of those with the right attitude lack the right quality.
‘Same coach, different players’ was never likely to go down well in some corners. Nor was getting personal with Alderweireld, a respected senior player.
‘There is nothing for me to clarify,’ said Mourinho when asked about the confusion surrounding the Belgian’s return. ‘If I have to clarify, I clarify with my people.’
Even if it is an attempt to spark a reaction — and Bale reacted positively post-Everton — the vibe around Tottenham is in danger of souring beyond repair as it did for him at Manchester United, and in his second spell at Chelsea.
Mauricio Pochettino ran the show in a more holistic way once he got rid of the likes of Paulinho
Plenty of Spurs fans have never been comfortable with Mourinho as their leader. They might cite his style of football or his links to Chelsea or it might be his smart-alecking or a lingering affection for his predecessor.
Mauricio Pochettino ran the show in a more holistic fashion but only once he had bombed out those he didn’t want, as Emmanuel Adebayor, Younes Kaboul, Etienne Capoue and Paulinho will testify.
Others who were prepared to tolerate Mourinho’s appointment in the hope he would deliver silverware have lost faith in wake of fading form, a defeat at Arsenal and the humbling Europa League exit in Zagreb.
More disappointment was in evidence from fans on various platforms after the Newcastle match amid fears the whole post-Poch gamble was backfiring.
Fans were disappointed at Newcastle amid fears the whole post-Poch gamble was backfiring
The reaction of 2,000 supporters at the Carabao Cup final will be a useful barometer of opinion, but the judgment on his first full season at the helm ought to be reserved for the end of the season.
Beat Manchester City at Wembley and his reputation as a serial winner is enhanced — even a winner at Tottenham — although, as George Graham and Juande Ramos found, that particular trophy holds no guarantee of a place in the hearts of Spurs fans.
Finish with a flourish in the Premier League and return to the Champions League, however, and the campaign will go down as a resounding success, particularly in the eyes of chairman Daniel Levy, who likes to compete for the top four despite spending less on players than his rivals.
Beat Manchester City at Wembley and Mourinho’s reputation as a serial winner is enhanced
Tottenham’s wage bill of £181million was about half of Manchester City’s for the latest accounts — the year ending 2019-20 — and more than £100m shy of Manchester United and Chelsea.
City spent £351m on wages and they have since handed Kevin de Bruyne a new four-year contract worth in excess of £83m.
Spurs, in sixth, are about where they belong in terms of expenditure but the top four is in reach if they can summon a strong finish.
A first league double over United since 1989-90 would be a good place to start.