Jose Mourinho’s plan to give Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti a bear hug ahead of their Premier League match today may not only have drawn unwelcome reminders at the Tottenham manager’s disregard for social distancing rules during the coronavirus pandemic, but it also reveals how he is a law unto his own.
In his case, his surety has been European qualification.
Mourinho has always led a team to the following season’s Champions League since he made his name as European champion of the unheralded Porto in 2004. In 2017 when Manchester United could only finish sixth, they made the premier competition by winning the second-tier Europa League.
He has, however, been prematurely sacked before Christmas, by Chelsea (2007, 2016) and Manchester United (2018), when his teams appeared to have trailed too far from the top four spots.
But this season, with Spurs only ninth and 12 points off fourth-placed Chelsea, the 57-year-old is experiencing a new order. But he insisted there will still be life to his Tottenham career if they miss their continental ticket.
“If that (Europe qualification) doesn’t happen it’s not the end of the world, it’s probably the beginning of a new world,” the Portuguese told reporters at his virtual news conference on Saturday.
“Things change, change for you, change for other club. Squads change, motivations change… a player at the maximum of motivation is not any more.
“If you analyse Tottenham last year, for example, how many matches do they win away?”
That number was 11 in the league last season, with eight losses, and Spurs’ tally of three away wins this term hardly bears the mark of improvement. Yet it fits the manager’s narrative that Spurs are not – and have not been – a robust team on their travels.
Under his predecessor Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham were developing into one of Europe’s premier competition’s mainstays, putting continental aristocrats Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City to the sword before reaching their first Champions League final, which they lost 2-0 to Liverpool.
Yet the notion that this group of players have run their course has reared its head again, with the Portuguese manager admitting being “disturbed” by his players’ lack of fight in their damaging 3-1 defeat by Sheffield United on Friday. The north Londoners were unable to bounce back after a controversial video assistant referee decision denied them a first-half equaliser.
“There was a lot in the game. There was a possibility of shortening distances to Champions League positions, there was the possibility of being more stable for the Europa League positions fight,” Mourinho told reporters.”I always say it’s not a problem for me to lose because my opponent is better.
“It’s not a problem for me to cope with mistakes and defeats. (But) it’s a problem when my feeling was we could do much more.”
Tottenham have a chance to resurrect their climb up the league table against Everton, although England midfielder Dele Alli is a doubt after picking up a hamstring injury on Saturday.
The Toffees are unbeaten since the season restarted after the Covid-19 hiatus, and Ancelotti has European ambitions of his own.
Everton’s last campaign in Europe was in the 2017-18 season when they were knocked out in the group stage of the Europa League.
“It’s really important to play in Europe,” said the Italian. “It will be difficult but we have to fight.”
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE