Jose Mourinho has a certain way of working.
His philosophy is very rigid, both in terms of his management style and tactical approach. To succeed under his stewardship, any club must make a deal to back his win at all costs mentality to the hilt in return for a finite period of success.
Although the Portuguese won a trophy at every club since breaking onto the scene with Porto, there is a belief that football is passing him by. Certainly, signing up to the Mourinho way doesn’t come with the guarantees it once did.
In a long-term sense, he has often been criticised for not leaving clubs with much contingency. He will arrive, implement his approach regardless of what has gone before, and depart when his project is finished. Following him is an unenviable task, not only because he has raised the bar more often than not, but bringing new ideas to the team he leaves behind is difficult because that winning formula is so deeply entrenched.
More recently, at clubs like Real Madrid and Manchester United in particular, he has not been allowed free reign to do as he pleases, because those clubs have principles which jar with his own. While he enjoyed good times with both, he departed under a cloud having failed to achieve his primary goals.
This is where the argument of football moving on comes into play. Mourinho is all substance with very little style, but the very top clubs want to win in a particular way; the trade off which made him so desirable ten or 15 years ago isn’t as enticing anymore, especially given how difficult the years after he leaves can be.
In one sense, Tottenham Hotspur appointing him as Mauricio Pochettino’s replacement early last season makes sense; they are hungry to win trophies. But the fact that Pochettino had built a squad capable of playing some of the most progressive football in Europe meant that the new era would require a certain amount of transition early on. There have been whispers of the typical Mourinho backlash, only amplified by the fact that Spurs are no longer easy on the eye. Their hope, though, is that a new, harder mentality can help them get over the line where they couldn’t before.
The summer business done already shows that Mourinho is getting to work. Two arrivals, neither of whom are particularly flashy, typify the direction in which he wants to go. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg signed from Southampton, adding a leader and physical presence to the midfield, something Tanguy Ndombele has so far struggled to provide. At full back, Matt Doherty joined from Wolves to offer stronger defensive protection down the right than Serge Aurier. Both Ndombele and Aurier have been most heavily criticised by Mourinho since his arrival.
The first three episodes of the Amazon Prime documentary, All Or Nothing, show exactly why Hojbjerg and Doherty are required. Mourinho told Aurier how “scared” he was of his marking ability in front of teammates, while also holding a number of meetings demanding a nastier streak from his players.
While Hojbjerg and Ndombele are different players and that should be considered, for the jobs Mourinho is asking of them there is a clear gulf in production levels. At Southampton, the Dane averaged 10.4 recoveries in Premier League games last season compared to Ndombele’s 6.6 at Spurs; in terms of Interceptions, Hojbjerg averages more again in the league per 90 minutes, 1.5 to 1.3.
In a creative sense, Hojbjerg is more efficient with his passing. Although Ndombele has more in the final third per 90 minutes, with 18.7 to 17.2, the former has a better success rate overall and plays more across a game. He will be great at recycling the ball or feeding it to the likes of Dele Alli, who can impact the game closer to goal. Mourinho likes his midfielders to be functional rather than spectacular, and Hojbjerg is certainly that.
Doherty will take up a slightly different role at Spurs; under Nuno Espirito Santo at Wolves, he played as a wingback, meaning he attempted fewer tackles per game than Aurier, but still won half (0.9 of 1.8). Aurier, meanwhile, won 2.4 of 3.2 attempted per 90 minutes last season. Mourinho will benefit more aerially with the Irishman, though; Doherty won 3.7 duels to Aurier’s 2.3.
The futures of Aurier and Ndombele are up in the air now, but these two swift moves in the transfer market show that Mourinho is working to correct what he perceives as weaknesses in his squad. For better or worse, Spurs are already being moulded to his way of thinking, which means further pulling away from the work Pochettino had done. Winning silverware is taking priority, which may or may not be a positive.
There were some teething issues which developed last season, but ultimately Spurs have looked more solid and effective. They will hope to take the next step and finally lift a trophy for the first time since 2008. Some will say even that isn’t worth tearing down the house Pochettino built, but with the arrivals of Hojbjerg and Doherty, it feels as if that era will finally be consigned to the history books