EPL

Mourinho to Roma: What Opta data tells us about ill-fated Tottenham spell and his decline

By Sports Desk May 04, 2021

In December 2018, Manchester United fans were adamant that Jose Mourinho's sacking meant he was finished at the "top" in club football.

A drab style of play, a similarly joyless demeanour in news conferences and seemingly incessant desire to belittle his own players marred his time in Manchester.

Disagreements with Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial were hardly private, while his relationship with Marcus Rashford appeared uneasy at times as well.

Tottenham paid no mind to the issues – whether that was down to Daniel Levy being convinced Mourinho wasn't finished yet or if he just wanted an entertaining figurehead for his Amazon documentary, who knows. Suffice to say, it ended prematurely on April 19 when Spurs announced his dismissal.

That was two successive high-profile jobs in club management that have, at the end of the day, yielded little – even if Mourinho insists finishing second with Manchester United was one of his greatest achievements.

It left many pondering what might be next. Given the damage to his reputation and the managerial stability of most of the biggest clubs in Europe, international management with Portugal after the Euros seemed the likeliest destination.

Yet here we are: just a few weeks on from being dismissed, he's got himself a new job lined up for next season when he will replace compatriot Paulo Fonseca at Roma. Mourinho's going back to Italy, the setting of arguably his greatest achievement in football: Inter's 2009-10 treble.

But football has changed a lot in the 11 years since then – on the evidence of his time at Tottenham and Manchester United, Mourinho hasn't.

A look at his data in the Premier League since last winning it in 2015 with Chelsea shows real decline.

A failure to evolve

Let's not forget, during Mourinho's first spell as Chelsea boss he was regarded as the best coach in the world at times. Even initially in his second period at Stamford Bridge he did well, taking them to the 2014-15 Premier League trophy.

But things quickly unravelled in 2015, and it's difficult to claim he's been on anything other than a downward spiral ever since.

He was sacked by Chelsea after winning just four games from 16 at the start of the 2015-16 season, and although he did preside over United's best season – points wise – since Ferguson's retirement, he didn't leave much of a legacy at Old Trafford.

Mourinho was then tasked with ending Spurs' 11-year trophy drought. That has since stretched to 13 years, and he left Tottenham having won just 46.6 per cent of his league games in charge.

His record in the English top flight before 2015-16 saw him boast a success rate of 69.4 per cent – since then it is just 48.5 per cent.

But why?

There are numerous theories about Mourinho's demise, but arguably chief among them is the idea he has failed to evolve with modern football, focusing on negating the threats of opponents rather than using the attacking talents available to him to take the initiative.

This fear was reportedly one reason for Spurs players apparently growing frustrated with Mourinho, and the data backs up the idea Mourinho is less forward thinking than earlier in his career, with his teams averaging 1.6 goals per game since 2014-15 finished, as opposed to 1.8 beforehand.

While not a massive difference, that change is exacerbated by the fact Mourinho no longer appears to be the shrewd pragmatic innovator he was once regarded, with his teams in the past few years rather porous.

Again, since 2015-16 started, Mourinho's teams have been conceding at a rate of 1.1 per game, whereas previously they conceded just 0.6 goals every 90 minutes.

Mourinho's teams were once tireless competitors built on a solid foundation – that no longer appears to be the case.

Spurs letting it slip

Perhaps it was expected Mourinho would at least get until the end of the season with Spurs, but with Champions League qualification looking increasingly unlikely, maybe we shouldn't be surprised that Levy acted when he did.

In terms of the reasoning for his sacking, there's probably not much more to it – but if we delve a little further into the numbers, unsettling trends appear.

Granted, the 95 points won by Spurs during Mourinho's time at the club was the fourth highest in the Premier League. However, that was 21 fewer than Manchester United – Liverpool had 117 and Manchester City were out in front on 130.

Mourinho's teams are supposed to be hard to beat, that had essentially been his unique selling point for years, yet Spurs lost 13 times in 2020-21 under him – it's the worst season he's ever had in that regard and he didn't even see it all the way through.

Similarly, the 10 Premier League losses Spurs suffered is a career worst for Mourinho in a single season.

The frequency of defeats led to questions being routinely asked of Spurs' mentality throughout Mourinho's time there, with the 27 points they dropped from winning positions in the Premier League since his initial appointment being behind only Southampton (30) and Brighton and Hove Albion (31) before he was dismissed.

But it makes for even grimmer viewing when looking at this season alone as the 20 points they threw away was the joint-worst in the division at the time of his sacking.

Spurs were particularly concerning when it came to closing games out, losing 11 points to goals conceded after the 80th minute. It's no wonder their collective mental strength had been called into question so often.

While the fact he didn't collect more points per game than Tim Sherwood (1.91) might attract ridicule on social media, the latter's record is actually the best of any Spurs boss to preside over more than 10 Premier League games at the club.

More importantly, Mourinho's 1.64 points per game was a significant drop-off on Pochettino's (1.89), and therein lies a key issue.

Roma have been struggling to meet the expectations of a demanding fanbase for years, a situation not too disimiliar to Spurs.

He couldn't do the business in London – Roma will hope Mourinho's pragmatism can still stake a claim for relevance in Serie A.

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