If the ending came earlier than usual for Jose Mourinho, the manner of it was all too familiar.
Dressing-room apathy and growing disillusionment at his tactics cost Mourinho his latest job in the English Premier League, with Tottenham firing the Portuguese coach on Monday after 17 months at the London club.
That’s Mourinho’s shortest spell at a club since he broke into the big time as a slick and self-confident coach of Porto at the start of the century.
Unusually for a man who has been a serial winner of trophies ever since, Mourinho leaves north London without having captured any silverware — also a first since those days at Porto.
That could have changed on Sunday, when Tottenham plays Manchester City in the English League Cup final at Wembley Stadium.
Mourinho won’t now get that chance.
“Jose and his coaching staff have been with us through some of our most challenging times as a club,” Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy said in a statement announcing the departure of Mourinho, whose contract was due to run until the end of the 2022-23 season.
“Jose is a true professional who showed enormous resilience during the pandemic. On a personal level I have enjoyed working with him and regret that things have not worked out as we both had envisaged.”
Out goes one of the most high-profile, most expensive, and most experienced coaches in world soccer. In comes a 29-year-old rookie in Ryan Mason, who had been in charge of Tottenham’s academy.
Mason had to retire from playing in 2018 on medical advice after failing to fully recover from a fractured skull following a clash of heads during a Premier League game the previous year.
Mason takes temporary charge of a club whose bid to qualify for next season’s Champions League has collapsed -- Tottenham has slumped to seventh place in the Premier League, five points behind fourth-placed West Ham -- but whose lofty status is such that it is among the 12 teams signed up to be part of a controversially created breakaway Super League.
That’s the kind of stage Mourinho expects to be coaching on. But there are now major doubts about his credibility as a top-class coach.
Certainly, any club potentially thinking of hiring him must question if it’s worth it.
Mourinho was hired in November 2019 to replace Mauricio Pochettino, who unexpectedly led Tottenham to the Champions League final before the team collapsed the following season.
It was an appointment which immediately split the fanbase, given Mourinho’s style of football and the tendency for his tenures to unravel.
A sixth-place finish last season was acceptable considering he had only half a year to stamp his authority on a team that was in mid-table when he arrived. And when Mourinho led Tottenham to first place nine games into this season — thanks to a 2-0 win over Manchester City in November — he appeared to have the magic touch once again, with Harry Kane and Son Heung-min sharing a potent partnership up front.
Gareth Bale had recently returned to the club on a season-long loan from Real Madrid and Mourinho’s other main summer signing, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, was looking assured as the midfield enforcer.
But disgruntlement over his tactics and man-management methods resurfaced in recent months as Tottenham slipped out of the Champions League places in the Premier League, and got eliminated from the Europa League in the round of 16 after a surprising 3-0 second-leg loss at Dinamo Zagreb.
Unusually for Mourinho, his team proved incapable of holding onto a lead, with no side losing more points (20) from winning positions this season than Tottenham.
Mourinho’s last game in charge proved to be a 2-2 draw at Everton on Friday, when Kane hobbled off in stoppage time with an ankle injury that might rule him out of the cup final on Sunday.
By that time, Tottenham was playing with no obvious identity or defensive robustness, while faith in Mourinho among the players cannot have been helped by a throwaway remark he made after a 2-2 draw at Newcastle, where Spurs again conceded a late goal.
When asked why Tottenham could not defend a lead, Mourinho said, “Same coach, different players.”
The ending felt eerily similar to his final days at Chelsea (his second spell from 2013-15) and Manchester United, where he fell out with players who seemingly were no longer playing for him.
Ten defeats in this season’s Premier League is the most in a single league campaign by a Mourinho-managed team.
Kane tweeted his thanks to Mourinho after the Portuguese coach’s departure was announced, saying: “A pleasure to have worked together. I wish you all the best for your next chapter.”
Whether that is ever in the Premier League again remains to be seen.
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Steve Douglas, The Associated Press