Welcome to Tottenham Hotspur, the Selfless One
Whisper it - this may not be the outright quivering disaster so many have foreseen
Jose Mourinho talks to the media during his Tottenham Hotspur press conference. Photograph: Getty Images
“I cannot come to this club and think it is about myself.” Perish the thought old bean. And indeed, lol. Over the years José Mourinho’s Premier League unveilings have tended to arrive expressly branded, like a high-end fairytale dwarf troupe. The pre-Tottenham years brought us Special, Happy and – looking back – Incredibly Angry. And now we have this. Welcome to Tottenham Hotspur, the Selfless One.
One day on from his appointment and two days before his first game Mourinho was duly announced to the world at the Tottenham training centre. As ever he spoke with fluency and a well-rehearsed charm.
It was a performance that contained its usual mix of jokes, barbs and chutzpah-laden spin. Not to mention the odd coded glimpse through the bars of what may be about to happen next. And even a sense – whisper it – that this may not be the outright quivering disaster so many have foreseen.
The TV branding had billed the day as “MOURINHO’S BACK”, with a cut-out of a huge, vampirically-lit Mourinho looming over a much smaller Tottenham logo. In the event he was something much more unnerving. From his opening monologue José seemed to be doing something with his face. His voice had changed. It took a while to digest what was going on. Oh. Mourinho was being nice.
And doing it pretty well, sitting there beaming in black and purple, looking lean and twinkly and only occasionally resembling a highly intelligent killer-ventriloquist’s dummy. José thanked Mauricio for his work and pronounced, grandly that “he will find happiness again”.
This was a recurrent theme. Not anger, snipe, poison or paranoia. The other stuff. What do you call it? Oh yeah. “Happiness-wise I am convinced my choice was a great one.” Behold. I am José, giver of joy.
Which is all very well, but it was still a moment of double-take. Watching Mourinho speaking from behind that crisp blue and white desk still felt a bit like watching Halloween take over Christmas, a place where nice, clean, spangly Spurs really have decided to inject themselves with that heavy fuel.
The takeover has been slick. On Wednesday the club Twitter feed had posted a slightly startling portrait of a dark-suited Spurs-issue Mourinho complete with razor-blade smile, like a publicity shot for a notoriously prolific provincial undertaker.
Beautifully cut official footage of the afternoon’s training session has already been picked over forensically for clues and omens, like the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination.
There was a reassuringly respectful hand clasp for Harry Kane, who is himself all business, seeks out his own marginal gains constantly, and who will surely be intrigued by working with Mourinho.
It answered another question too. Even here, moving among the players in skinny-cut tracksuit bottoms, Mourinho still carries the same oddly luminous physical presence, that alpha glare, the sense of complete self-possession.
Watching him propped up at the press conference plinth a day later there was a degree of clarity to the wider question of what, exactly, he’s doing here in the first place. For Tottenham this has been a time of making over and beefing up generally. Welcome to the next step. There is, like it or not, another giant cock in the stadium now.
There is another possibility too, albeit one that goes against the prevailing orthodoxy. Perhaps the hiring of one of the greatest managers of the modern age may actually turn out to be a good idea.
There has already been a great deal of pearl clutching over Mourinho, with a near-unanimous conviction he is not just a busted managerial flush but an unremittingly toxic agent. In fairness the notion of José as a ray of cleansing sunshine – José with his new philosophy, his progressive all-vegan backroom staff – is hard to take.
But it is another cliche, a case of taking the public persona at face value, to assume that Mourinho is in fact football’s own exposed Chernobyl core, that he will dissolve your skin and irradiate your vital organs simply by wearing the club crest.
The truth as ever lies in between. In reality he remains a revered, hugely persuasive figure among those who actually play the game. His record across four leagues is unmatched. And he does even tend to improve his players, at least the ones he feels are worth his attention.
This is a more interesting question. On the training ground there was a playful slap on the chest for Dele Alli. And this will be a key relationship in the next few months. On past form Mourinho will give Alli a short, decisive trial period. You can be my Sneijder here; or you can end up another Robinho.
Eric Dier got a slap on the neck too, and again this is a huge opportunity for Dier, and indeed for Mourinho himself. Dele, Harry, Eric: this was the triangle of strength in the best of the Poch Spurs teams. There is an obvious, easy gain in attempting to fire it up again.
Is this a long-term strategy? Is it meant to be? Some have whispered that José to Spurs is simply elite-level branding. Stadium, Champions League, Mourinho. Whatever the dressing-room vibe this piece of football real estate has reached peak market value right now.
Either way, it promises to be another fascinating piece of theatre. Not to mention a fit that is perhaps closer to Mourinho’s better moments – aspirational club, players with much to gain – than it might have seemed in outline.