Tottenham target attack-minded manager after sacking José Mourinho

David Hytner
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Daniel Levy wants an attack-minded manager to replace José Mourinho, who he sacked on Monday morning. The Tottenham chairman is keen for the replacement to be modern in outlook and have strong credentials in the development of young players. The profile would not appear dissimilar to that of Mauricio Pochettino, who he dismissed in November 2019 after a poor run of results to make way for Mourinho.

Levy removed Mourinho as the storm swirled over Spurs’s involvement in the proposed European Super League. They are one of 12 clubs to have signed up to the breakaway competition and, in that sense, the timing felt unusual. But the writing had been on the wall for Mourinho for some time, with results and performances having nose-dived since early December and the dressing room becoming an increasingly divided and fractious place.

Related: Tottenham sacking consigns dour and dogmatic José Mourinho to the past | Jonathan Liew

Ryan Mason, the 29-year-old former Spurs midfielder, whose career was cut short by a terrible head injury, will step up to manage the team for the remainder of the season from his role as the head of player development for under-17s to under-23s. He will be supported by Chris Powell, who joined the club last August as the head of coaching for the same youth age groups.

Mason’s first game will be at home to Southampton on Wednesday, when he will attempt to rekindle Spurs’s outside hopes of a top-four finish, and then he has Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City. Spurs have not won a trophy since 2008 and it speaks volumes for Levy’s unhappiness at Mourinho that he chose to jettison him in the week of the showpiece. Levy hopes for a bounce under Mason, despite the obvious risks of such an inexperienced hire. Mason joined Spurs as a seven-year-old and Levy places great store in his knowledge of the club.

Levy had stood by Mourinho when the team lost five of six Premier League games from the end of January and also exited the FA Cup at Everton. His belief that Mourinho could engineer a turnaround was bolstered by an encouraging sequence of three successive league wins but then came the 2-1 derby defeat at Arsenal, which showed Mourinho at his low block, unimaginative worst, and it was followed by the 3-0 Europa League loss at Dinamo Zagreb. Spurs had been 2-0 up after the first leg of the last 16 tie.

At that point, Spurs began to field calls from agents and tell them of the profile for a potential successor. Julian Nagelsmann is prominent on their wishlist, although the 33-year-old, who has impressed at RB Leipzig, could be a target for Bayern Munich, where Hansi Flick has said that he wants to leave at the end of the season.

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Roberto Martínez, who has overseen the progress of the Belgium national team since 2016 and previously managed Swansea, Wigan and Everton, has his admirers at Spurs, and Gareth Southgate could also emerge as a candidate after the European Championship in the summer. The England manager, who has a contract to 2022, has said that he wants a return to the club game at some point. He has built an excellent relationship with Harry Kane, his captain and Spurs’s talisman.

Some of the players at Spurs had grown tired of Mourinho’s confrontational approach, his readiness to blame them for mistakes and dropped points rather than accept responsibility for the pattern of matches, which often saw the team create little and, if in front, sit deeper and deeper in an attempt to protect what they had.

Related: Revealed: unpublished Super League document justifying breakaway

Mourinho was damned by seven league wins in 21, having been top of the table on 6 December after beating Arsenal at home – a sequence that dragged the team down to seventh – and, also, the statistic that showed they had squandered 20 points from winning positions this season.

Hugo Lloris, the captain, laid bare the rifts in the dressing room after the defeat in Zagreb, saying there were players, mainly out of the team, who were not listening to Mourinho and/or giving their all. Mourinho felt he needed more characters like Lloris and that some players came to think they were doing him a favour by being on the pitch. That group did not include Kane or Son Heung-min, who posted messages that were supportive of Mourinho after his sacking.

Mourinho wanted an overhaul of the squad in the summer but some of his targets were believed to have been unrealistic. Not for the first time, Levy has found that his manager is more dispensable than underachieving players.