, August 02, 2021

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Ryan Mason’s ‘Anti-Mourinho’ approach could prove the perfect Tottenham tonic


  •   4 min reads
Ryan Mason Spurs manager
Jose Mourinho was ousted at Spurs after a career-worst stint. Peter Powell/EPA.

In the end, ‘football heritage’ wasn’t enough to keep Jose Mourinho afloat after Tottenham Hotspur pulled the cord to end a limp 17 months as manager on Monday. Club chairman Daniel Levy was among the last remaining allies Mourinho could call upon in north London, but a dearth of the requisite passion forced this project to an abrupt conclusion.

Mourinho left the club having suffered a career-high 13 defeats this season, a total made all the more difficult to believe because Spurs had seven games to play prior to his dismissal. The club recorded 10 defeats under the Portuguese during the 2019-20 campaign, less impressive due to the fact he was named Mauricio Pochettino’s successor in November 2019.

By all accounts, this was the latest pantomime in which Mourinho had become the villain, at odds with those under his command in what transpired as a familiar turn of events. England captain Harry Kane was said to be one of the last bastions loyalty for the three-time Premier League winner, per The Athletic.

Mike McGrath of the Telegraph wrote the former Chelsea and Manchester United tactician delivered “home truths” to Spurs players for four hours after being informed of his sacking. Mourinho was understandably less vocal to the media when confronted outside his London home later that day, though he did insist he’s in no need of a break and is “always in football”:

‘The Homegrown One’ has taken over on an interim basis, with Ryan Mason promoted from academy coach to lead his old side until the end of the season.

Mason—a Spurs academy graduate who made 70 first-team appearances and was part of the team that finished as League Cup runners-up in 2015—became the youngest Premier League manager in history when he was appointed at 29 years, 312 days. A 2-1 win over Southampton last week made him the youngest winner in Premier League management, after which the contentment was palpable:

In the absence of an injured Kane, Gareth Bale came in from the cold to ignite their comeback after Danny Ings’ early opener, while Heung-min Son earned three points from the spot in the final minutes.

That hearty reaction was emblematic of the warmer sentiment running through the squad since the change. Mason of course benefits from a lower-pressure atmosphere, fully aware he’s unlikely to be handed the job on a full-time basis, but his first senior coaching role still comes with its burdens as the club chase a top-six (possibly even top-four) finish in the Premier League.

And then there’s the nature of Mason’s maiden match as manager. The fact Spurs were even able to come from behind and win (and all without talisman Kane) hints at a transition towards a more unified outlook, having traditionally struggled after trailing under their former master:

Bale—who had played just 10 minutes in Tottenham’s previous four league games prior to starting against Southampton—praised Mason’s half-time talk and the patience he encouraged prior to the second-half resurgence. The Welshman’s loan move from Real Madrid was always seen as Levy’s brainchild, and even the slightest dips in form carried the sentence that Bale could be once again cut from Mourinho’s plans despite his widespread appeal.

Mason’s decision to push his former team-mate back into the starting XI against Southampton was made all the easier by Kane’s absence. Nevertheless, the move underlined the caretaker’s consideration that his squad are indeed starting afresh for the end-of-season run, and Bale’s equalising effort was just reward for reneging on the previous manager’s blueprint.

There are certain benefits that come with any change in leadership when the old regime has steered the ship so far off course. There comes a point when any change at the wheel feels as though it could turn a new page and improve results, but in Mason, Tottenham have a coach whose personal connection with the club flies directly against what his predecessor provided.

Mourinho, 58, has won top-flight titles in England, Spain, Italy, Portugal, not to mention the UEFA Champions League miracle with Porto in 2004, his origin point as ‘The Special One’.

But a failure to move with the times and adapt his methods in a sport that seldom stays still is increasingly the reason for his most recent downfalls. The 58-year-old fulfilled one job in elevating Kane to world-beater levels, but at the cost of alienating the rest of the squad, could ultimately be responsible for the campaign that convinces the striker to leave for greener pastures.

Part of the interim coach’s job in the month to come will be convincing Kane that the feel-good factor is back in north London. Perhaps any form of European qualification would be enough to keep Spurs’ captain at the club for even one more season, and the new manager’s familiarity with the players’ plight will be key in boosting optimism back to the levels witnessed under Pochettino.

Mason would need to carve a miraculous end to this season if he were to land the position on permanent terms, even if the squad were to give their all for the slate to come. Losing the Carabao Cup Final to Manchester City – albeit in tight fashion – won't have helped his cause. His full-time appointment seems an all but impossible fate, when RB Leipzig’s Julian Nagelsmann, Maurizio Sarri and Massimiliano Allegri are among the rumored targets.

Still, a little morale could go a long way with a team as talented as the one at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where a tactile touch may be more critical to success than tactics alone right now.

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