Football Features

Can Jose Mourinho save this season (and potentially his career)? Spurs’ three routes to success

By Muhammad Butt

Can Jose Mourinho save this season (and potentially his career)? Spurs' three routes to success

Published: 12:33, 12 February 2021

José Mourinho’s Spurs are out of the FA Cup after losing the game of the season so far to Everton.

The match ended with a, as Mourinho himself said over a decade ago, “hockey score.” 5-4 after extra time and Carlo Ancelotti’s Toffees are through to the quarter-final while Mourinho, who was fairly genial post-match, must lick his wounds and lament the lost opportunity to win a trophy this season.

Because that’s why he’s at Spurs. To win a trophy. Mauricio Pochettino developed Spurs superbly but famously couldn’t get them over the line to actually win anything, and his disdain for domestic cups exacerbated what ended up becoming “a thing” where people were counting the years since Spurs last won anything.

Mourinho obviously arrived with a heritage of winning trophies. He’d done it everywhere he’d been. Even at Manchester United, unquestionably his least impressive managerial spell, he won the EFL Cup and Europa League. He delivered success. And Spurs want him to do the same.

The FA Cup would have been the ideal route to that, with its history and heritage as well as the final coming at the end of the season. It would have been the perfect way for Mourinho to end his first full campaign in charge, winning the most historic cup competition in the world.

But they’re out. And after a run of four defeats and one win in their last five games are also down in eighth in a Premier League table many were once tipping them to win (or at least challenge for). Things could spiral out of control from here but here are still paths to success for the Portuguese coach. Three, in fact.

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1. Finishing in the top four 

The most obvious objective, and solution to Mourinho’s problems, is to finish in the top four and guarantee a spot in next season’s Champions League. Spurs missed out on the top four last season and Mourinho will be all too aware that players as good as Harry Kane and Heung-min Son will be yearning to play at the highest level regularly.

Spurs currently sit eighth in he table, and with 16 games left to play they are presently four points off fourth spot (currently occupied by Liverpool). However the staggered nature of the season means that Spurs have a game in hand on the Reds so the gap is really only one point, potentially.

However Spurs also sit between Aston Villa and Everton, both of whom have two games in hand on Liverpool and were they to win them both could extend the gap between Spurs and fourth right back to four points.

All of this is to say there’s a long way to go until the end of the season and with so many twists and turns to come as well as the incredibly competitive nature of the top four race, it would be risky for Mourinho to sink all his eggs into the Premier League basket.

2. Winning the EFL Cup

While finishing top four guarantees the Champions League for next season, it doesn’t give Spurs what they want most of all: a trophy. However, much as Spurs are out of the FA Cup they are one game away from success in the EFL Cup where they will take on Man City.

Mourinho is scheduled to go head-to-head against old enemy Pep Guardiola this weekend in the Premier League, and then at the end of April comes the cup final. A huge event for Mourinho to stamp himself and his personal brand of winning onto Spurs.

Should they manage to overcome what is obviously the best team in the country and deny City a fourth consecutive EFL Cup win, the impact it could have on Spurs’ fortunes both this season and beyond are impossible to gauge.

Mourinho has long valued the EFL Cup as a gateway trophy to future excellence, a way to galvanise the team and get them simultaneously hungering for silverware and believing they can win them. He’s claimed the EFL Cup four times as a coach, at least once for every job he’s had in England (and the joint-most wins for a single manager). Could he claim the record for himself, making it five wins by lifting Spurs over City? That certainly would put a whole different spin on the season.

3. Winning the Europa League

As much as winning the EFL Cup would be huge for Spurs, should they win it and then be back in the Europa League again next season fans might not fully appreciate the glory of the triumph. The trick is to win a trophy and get back into Europe’s top competition, and so the best way for José Mourinho to save his season is to go for the prize that allows him to do both: the Europa League.

Firstly the Europa League is a trophy, so it will sate the fan’s need for glory and motivate the players to want more. But it also guarantees the winner a place in next season’s Champions League, which is essential given how unlikely it is that Spurs will qualify via the league.

Spurs have a tie against Wolfsberger AC in the round of 32 coming up soon and will feel confident they can progress to at least the round of 16. From there they will have to see who they draw but if they can keep Harry Kane and Heung-min Son fit and firing then they will go into any two-legged tie believing they have a chance.

The ideal scenario would be for Mourinho to repeat his first season at Manchester United, where he won the EFL Cup and rode that wave to winning the Europa League. Should he pull this off with Spurs, or even if he claims only the Europa League, then all the issues with negative football and the complete lack of an offensive gameplan will be forgotten because he will have delivered on the two unspoken promises that his appointment brought: Champions League football and trophies.

Over to you, José.