The Secret Coach: Is Mourinho still the master?
For the last few years, debate has raged in English football about whether Jose Mourinho still has what it takes to manage at the top level. Despite winning the Europa League with Manchester United, the Portuguese manager could get the Red Devils no nearer to a Premier League title they haven’t win since Alex Ferguson retired in his three years at the club.
Likewise, while Mourinho excelled in his first Chelsea stint between 2004 and 2007, his return yielded one title and a lot of trouble, eventually leading to his acrimonious exit from the club. Last night, a year into his role as Tottenham Hotspur manager, Jose Mourinho welcomed not just his old team in Chelsea in the Carabao Cup , but his former midfield general Frank Lampard, who currently holds the reigns at Stamford Bridge.
We followed last night’s game in the company of a professional football coach in English football, who will remain anonymous. He’s worked with some of the biggest names in the game, going through the coaching process, and is currently part of the team at an English league side… and that’s all we’re telling you. He’ll be honest each week about what he sees as he sees it. As ever, The Secret Coach pulls no punches!
Pre-match, Mourinho has often been known to send out messages rather than talk too much about what he and his team intend to do during the game and last night’s Carabao Cup tie was no different.
“He’s publicly giving his players an excuse.”
“Jose is still the master of subtle interviews,” says The Secret Coach. “He protects his players and provides them with what some would say are excuses. Tonight, he’s talked about the fixture congestion with Spurs playing Sunday and Chelsea playing on Saturday. He’s publicly giving his players an excuse. If they lose, he can say ‘Well, I told you what we were up against.’ Behind closed doors, I’d imagine players would see it professionally and not that the manager has given them an excuse to play badly but instead taken some pressure off them, allowing them to go out and play. If they win, it’s great, but if not, he’s provided reasons why they didn’t before the game. He will also deflect and protect players in the media for their performances… providing he was happy with them.”
Dele Alli is one of the players Mourinho has at his disposal, of course but in recent squads, the former MK Dons man hasn’t featured, having apparently fallen out of favour. The Secret Coach believes this could be motivational from the Portuguese two-time Champions League winner.
“Sometimes you have a scapegoat to send a message,” he says. “He is new to Spurs – has he stamped his authority yet? At Chelsea the first time around, it was new and exciting, so he had a fresh love for him from all the players but at United and Spurs, was their love like that? No. By highlighting that Dele Alli is underperforming, Mourinho sends a message to the rest – pull your weight or else. Has Dele reacted to being dropped in training positively? We don’t know, but he has been in decline the last few seasons with statistics showing this. When Mourinho said ‘Are you going to ask Frank why Thiago Silva is not playing? Is it because of his mistake or something else?’ It was great deflecting.”
“I think he’s lost a yard of pace but he’s still a deadly asset in front of goal.”
Mourinho stated in his pre-match presser that not only was Alli not in the squad but ‘No Dele Alli, no Sonny, no Lo Celso.’ Mourinho wasn’t going to speak about players who weren’t there, but also left Harry Kane on the bench, saying that the team would play with ‘no number nine’. The Secret Coach rates Kane as different to the usual Mourinho forward such as Diego Costa or Romelu Lukaku that the manager employed at Chelsea and Manchester United.
“Kane can finish. After his ankle and hamstring injuries, I think he’s lost a yard of pace but he’s still a deadly asset in front of goal, in the air and outside the box. The question is creativity for him. Look back at Alan Shearer, when he was mobile, he ran the channels, scoring different goals, but after injuries, his role within the team and the team itself changed as a result. Can a manager get the best out of his or her asset, with the formation and style to suit players you have or get players to suit a formation you want to play?”
“Spurs under Pochettino and even back as far as Harry Redknapp were all about attacking pace and flair.”
One of the key issues with Mourinho’s role at Spurs is whether he changes how the North London side play to suit the style he usually employees or whether he alters his style to suit the players he already has.
“Jose is one of the best at organising a solid defensive team that will frustrate and look to counter-attack, but the Spurs squad under Pochettino and even back as far as Harry Redknapp was all about attacking pace and flair. At Chelsea, Jose won 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, at Inter and Madrid it was often the same, building from a solid defensive base. But you have to have the players who are defensive minded and can play that way.”
One point of coaching is something The Secret Coach and Mourinho agree on.
“I believe that stopping goals is far more difficult to coach than to build a team to go out and score. Ask any player to score a goal at any age and they can. Ask them how to prevent a goal, and it’s a different story. Has Jose got the squad to be solid and have a handful of attacking flair to then counter? There are attacking players, but I’m not sure he has the reliable defence and midfield base.”
“Knowing players strengths is a must.”
The Secret Coach has his own methods, many of which stem from ways of identifying mistakes that the opposition make.
“Coaches have a way they like to play. I have one which is similar, working on defensive strategies and giving players freedom to express in certain areas of the pitch. Knowing players strengths is a must. It can affect team selection. For example, if player A plays, I need player B to play behind as he is more defensive and allows player A to be less disciplined defensively. This will cause issues for the opposition, but if player B is unavailable, then player A has to start on the bench as player C and D play as whilst they’re less effective as individual players, the pair give the team more balance.”
The return of Gareth Bale has given Spurs the chance to swing fans back to the side, but the Secret Coach is unconvinced the Welshman will hit the heights he did before signing for Los Blancos.
“Bale is still a good player but can he be consistent,” he says. “He has evolved as a player and has different physical attributes now. Does he still have blistering pace to beat players? Will he be able to play with lesser technical players than he was used to at Madrid?”
The game starts, Spurs happy to sit back and defend their own half, but not venturing too far forward into the opposition’s territory.
“Have Chelsea got the creativity with their young midfield?”
“Spurs are happy to sit and allow Chelsea to have possession,” says the Secret Coach. “In effect, they’re playing a 1-4-6 formation starting with engaging on the halfway line, saying break us down, being very compact in central areas. It’s interesting, as Giroud is good in the air, so the tactic could allow crosses, but have Chelsea got the creativity with their young midfield? Spurs have to counter-attack and pounce on loose play from Chelsea.”
Over the course of the first half, we discuss how Spurs are soaking up pressure from Chelsea, even after the West London side take the lead following a neat cross from Cezar Azpilicueta and lightning finish from Timo Werner. The Secret Coach identifies it was Mourinho’s plan to draw Chelsea out, getting them to keep a higher and higher line before putting on players to exploit that. Even conceding a goal didn’t change that philosophy.
“Having no traditional number nine, Spurs have brought Chelsea’s back-line up high. If they put a player on with pace and play more direct, having played with no number nine and set them up, they could create that space for a Lucas Moura to come on. That looks like it’s always been the plan but that means keeping it tight.”
The Secret Coach calls this tactic ‘The Hunter and the Prey’. It requires patience, before your team pounce on a mistake and then you have your opponent. At the start of the second half, exactly what The Secret Coach says might happen transpires. Spurs start high, exploiting the space over the top and look creative.
“As you can see, Chelsea were expecting much of the same from Spurs, but Spurs are attacking now. Chelsea were not ready for that.”
“Loads of chances mean nothing if you don’t score.”
As Spurs bring on players such as Steven Bergwijn, Harry Kane and on 76 minutes, Lucas Moura. The game changes, opens up for the hosts and with seven minutes remaining, new signing Reguilon pounces on that mistake from Chelsea, Timo Werner assuming the left wing-back will use his preferred foot to put the cross in. Instead, a right-footed cross supplies the ball for Erik Lamela to slot home. After the final whistle, Spurs win the resultant penalty shoot-out, progressing after Mason Mount misses the 10th and final penalty after every Spurs player had scored. Mourinho has dragged his team through to the quarter-finals and done it his way.
“There’s the adage that you have to score when you have your moments of domination, with regards to possession. Loads of chances mean nothing if you don’t score. But the master succeeds over his former student. It links back to psychology; if your team is being battered for a long period but they don’t score, your self-belief begins to rise. ‘It might not be their day’ you think, and you’ll start to think you can still win or get a point.”
In the end, that’s exactly what happened as Mourinho proved that within the microcosm of a single game, he still has a lot to give and the ability to beat anyone if his highly specific instructions are followed.
The Secret Coach will return…. next week here at Calvin Ayre.
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