Jose Mourinho: The rise and fall of his Tottenham tenure behind closed doors

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Dan Kilpatrick
·5-min read
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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

In the wake of one of the more dispiriting defeats of Tottenham's season, Jose Mourinho made a prediction.

Spurs had surrendered meekly in a 1-0 home loss to Chelsea on February 4 and a week later Mourinho claimed the absence of supporters had cost his side the chance to get a result.

"The last 20 minutes, the team started pressing a lot and being closer,” Mourinho said. “I believe that [with the] stadium full, [it] could make an impact on the team."

Spurs had a customary late rally, with Carlos Vinicius heading wide in Chelsea's only moment of real anxiety, and Mourinho's contention was that with 60,000 supporters behind them, his players would have been galvanised to earn the late equaliser he felt their performance deserved.

As with so many aspects of Mourinho's Tottenham reign, which ended with his sacking on Monday, his was one way of looking at the situation – but the other was quite different.

Elsewhere at the club, there was belief that the mood from the terraces could have turned really ugly for the first time.

The defeat to Chelsea was Tottenham's third on the bounce, following equally abject and error-strewn losses to Liverpool and Brighton which confirmed that their brief sojourn at the top of the table had been little more than a mirage.

Mourinho's side sorely lacked ambition, ideas and organisation against their London rivals and the manager's caution was underlined by his refusal to use a third substitute, leaving Gareth Bale on the bench.

Some at Spurs felt the empty terraces had spared Mourinho and his players inevitable boos and jeers from supporters, and perhaps even mass calls for the manager's head.

Mourinho's death-spiral has played out similarly at nearly all of his previous clubs but never has his empire risen and fallen to the backdrop of entirely empty stands.

The question of how Tottenham's season might have played out had supporters not been locked out of grounds since June is therefore one of the most intriguing counterfactuals of Mourinho's 17-month tenure.

It is a fair starting point to assume that the absence of fans ultimately helped to prolong the Portuguese's time in north London.

Without audible disquiet from supporters, it was easier for chairman Daniel Levy to persist with Mourinho, even as it became clear his reign was unravelling.

With previous managers, Levy has acted swiftly, often pulling the trigger with surprising haste before the atmosphere at the club could get any worse or his preferred successor was out of reach.

While Levy did not allow Mourinho's endgame to really toxify, sections of the dressing room and fanbase had long since tired of the 57-year-old before the chairman finally made the decision to sack him.

The delay to the Carabao Cup Final, the lack of obvious alternatives and the chairman’s feeling that he personally had more skin in the game than usual, having staked his reputation on hiring Mourinho, were all likely factors in Levy’s delay.

Ultimately, though, the absence of supporters was also decisive in ensuring that Mourinho's reign continued for longer than it might have done if accompanied by palpable discord from the terraces.

Ironically, Mourinho’s predecessor Mauricio Pochettino played a part in convincing the Spurs board to pay less attention to unrest on social media, arguing that it did not constitute true pressure and should not dictate club policy.

With supporters unable to attend matches, the only real disquiet at Mourinho's management came online but the club reasoned – not unfairly – that the vast majority of match-going fans were not on social media and that the angriest voices were always the loudest.

Without fans to shake the stadium, Levy was able to largely ignore the growing unrest online and persist with Mourinho until results finally convinced him otherwise.

The other big unknown is whether Mourinho would have felt compelled to alter his approach or make different decisions with fans in the stadium.

Undoubtedly, it would have been much harder for him to overlook certain players.

The calls for Bale in February’s defeat to Chelsea, for example, would have been deafening and even an individual as experienced and headstrong as Mourinho would have surely found such a clamour difficult to ignore.

Similarly, Dele Alli, a long-time fan-favourite, would have been repeatedly triumphed by fans and for Mourinho to ignore the calls would have risked damaging his relationship with supporters much sooner.

There is also the big question of Tottenham's style under Mourinho and whether the fanbase, which is steeped in the traditions of attacking football, would have made any real difference to his tactics.

Time and again Mourinho's side squandered leads but the manager always insisted he was not instructing his squad to stop attacking and drop deeper once they were ahead – a view some members of the squad disagreed with.

Whatever the truth, it would certainly have been harder for Spurs to keep dropping onto the back foot with supporters in the stadium. The fans would have urged them on to score a second goal.

Perhaps, with fans, Mourinho's Spurs would have been a more engaging and attacking side, changing the course of the campaign entirely.

We will never know, but one thing that is certain: Ryan Mason will get a far more stirring reception than Mourinho when 2,000 Spurs fans return to Wembley, as part of an 8,000-strong crowd, for Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final.

In the end, it is telling and perhaps no coincidence that Mourinho’s inevitable downfall came just six days before he was directly faced with supporters for the first time since his tenure turned sour.

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