“The wait is finally over. The world’s most captivating sport returns for another year of drama, intrigue, beauty and suspense. Football is back,” said Martin Tyler, English “football” commentator and a bloody legend.
As Tyler so eloquently put it, the beautiful game—specifically, the Premier League—has returned to television. Sure, that’s exciting news. I’m not denying that. But, more importantly, I’ve created a column that covers the wonderfully wacky world of professional soccer. This week, I focus on Tottenham Hotspur F.C.—the club I have supported since I was 12, and the club I watched get demolished by my friend Benji’s Everton last Sunday morning.
Let’s talk about the aforementioned train wreck. In the 55th minute, Dominic Calvert-Lewin decisively headed home Lucas Digne’s free kick—a cross that neither Toby Alderweireld nor Eric Dier jumped for—to put Everton up 1-0 and secure a well-deserved win. Tottenham’s signings Matt Doherty and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg—I bet you can’t say that ten times fast—made their competitive debuts, as did exciting Everton midfield trio Allan, Abdoulaye Doucouré and James Rodríquez. This sentence from Benji’s match report perfectly summarizes the game: “Everton played well, but Tottenham also performed extremely poorly.”
I really resonate with the part of the quotation in which Benji points out that the Spurs were absolutely atrocious. Tottenham’s lackluster showing can mainly be attributed to the club’s manager, José Mourinho, a man who essentially nicknamed himself “The Special One.” Hoping to prevent Everton from creating chances, Mourinho instructed his players to retreat to their own half, sit deep and allow Everton to play the ball around the back. Unfortunately, his defensive tactics did not work and, ironically but unsurprisingly, allowed the Toffees to produce several goal-scoring opportunities: 11 shots, to be exact.
In addition to letting Everton waltz up to Tottenham’s net with very little resistance, Mourinho’s decision to substitute Moussa Sissoko for Dele Alli at the start of the second half because he wanted to increase the amount of creativity in midfield, was questionable, to say the least. Dele Alli scored a screamer against Crystal Palace (look it up on YouTube, you’ll thank me), whereas Sissoko can’t shoot. Don’t get it twisted—I love Sissoko. He sprints, tackles and occasionally dribbles past an entire team. But if you’re the manager of Tottenham Hotspur F.C. and your midfield is composed of Højbjerg (a guy who is less creative than an accountant), Harry Winks (a guy who rarely loses possession, but also rarely makes a meaningful offensive contribution) and Dele Alli (a guy who has 50 goals and 33 assists in 157 Premier League appearances for the Spurs), you don’t sub in Sissoko for Dele Alli—that is, if you have half of a brain.
Perhaps you take out Højbjerg, tell Winks to sit in front of the back four and play Sissoko as a box-to-box midfielder. Or maybe you sub out Winks for Sissoko in a straight swap. I genuinely believe that both of the halftime switches involving Sissoko which I suggested, switches which Mourinho could have made, would have increased the level of creativity in midfield and improved Tottenham’s odds of winning the match. “The Special One,” however, thought that replacing his most prolific midfielder with a guy who has 14 goals and 24 assists in 234 Premier League appearances—no hard feelings, Sissoko—would help Tottenham create more chances and win the game. It turned out that he was wrong.
The way in which Mourinho manages the Spurs is concerning in a plethora of ways. For starters, his player selection process is flawed. Why does Eric Dier start every game? Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham’s previous manager who led the squad to a Champions League final, used him as a rotation player. We have four center backs who should be playing ahead of him either because they are better than him—Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sánchez—or because they have the potential to develop into stars—Japhet Tanganga and Juan Foyth. I’ve already mentioned how his tactics tend to backfire. Most people assume that match management mishaps are the most worrying aspect of Mourinho’s tenure with the Spurs, but they’re wrong. It’s his inability to get players to buy in. My two favorite players, forwards Son Heung-min and Harry Kane, are frustrated by Mourinho’s ineffective defensive tactics and are interested in possibly moving to several other clubs. It is only a matter of time before they grow sick of Mourinho’s incompetence and leave for greener pastures.
I want to conclude by sharing a question that Benji posed: “Is this truly a new era of Everton football, or was Sunday’s dominant performance merely a function of a Tottenham side that will continue to play far below the level they should under misfit manager José Mourinho?” The answer is clear: #MourinhoOut.