- Jose Mourinho sacked by Tottenham after less than 18 months in charge
- Jasob Burt: Mourinho is a spent force at the top level – the Special One is done
- Thom Gibbs: Why Mourinho’s replacement at Spurs must be Ralph Hasenhuttl
It was on the journey back from Goodison Park last Friday night that Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy made up his mind that it was no longer worth persevering with what ultimately became an expensive vanity project.
Levy had wanted to work with Jose Mourinho for well over a decade before finally hiring him 17 months ago, so it is little wonder that it was the 59-year-old who was practically the last man inside Spurs to give up on the Portuguese.
As far back as February, just a couple of months after Tottenham had topped the Premier League table, Levy was being told that it was time to consider making a change and ditching his Mourinho win-at-all-costs experiment.
There was concern that the style of football was not good enough and would not be accepted by Spurs supporters when they eventually return to stadiums, and that divisions between Mourinho and some of his players had been apparent.
Initially, though, Levy was determined to try to ride the storm, still believing Mourinho could combine Champions League qualification, through the Premier League or by winning the Europa League, with a first trophy success for 13 years in the EFL Cup.
As recently as two weeks ago, Levy had told close contacts that he was not planning to make a change before the end of the season. But, having watched Spurs toil to a draw with Everton that left them five points behind fourth-placed West Ham United ahead of Sunday’s final against Manchester City, he gave in.
How a season – and a manager – unravelled (Jose Mourinho)
West Ham’s slip up against Newcastle has kept alive the smallest possibility that Spurs may yet push their way into the top four over their remaining six League games, with Levy adamant that the club, currently placed seventh, cannot accept finishing outside the top six. He will be relying on the psychological impact of Mourinho’s departure providing extra motivation for Sunday’s EFL Cup final against City.
While sacking Mourinho will be expensive, it is understood Levy views it as a calculated decision having figured that qualifying for the Europa League alone will roughly cover the cost.
Tottenham last won the League Cup in 2008, which remains their last trophy success, when the club stood at a similar crossroads and decided to ignore the gap that had developed between their squad and the manager at the time, Juande Ramos.
Failure to qualify for the Champions League resulted in Spurs losing both Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane the following summer and the bad run of results at the end of the season spilled into the start of the next campaign, forcing Levy to sack Ramos and draft in Harry Redknapp to clear up the mess in October 13 years ago.
As they did with Berbatov, Tottenham know they face a battle to convince Harry Kane that his future remains at the club and Levy would have been well aware that replacing Mourinho a few months into next season would be far more difficult than it is ahead of the summer.
Kane, along with Heung-Min Son, is believed to have been upset by the timing of Mourinho’s departure and finding out through the media. But, by acting now, Levy will hope that he has given Tottenham, for whom Ryan Mason took training ahead of Wednesday night’s game against Southampton – and will now remain as interim head coach for the rest of the campaign – the chance to save their season and build some momentum for the next permanent head coach to benefit from.
Julian Nagelsmann, as first revealed by Telegraph Sport in February, remains Tottenham’s first choice to replace Mourinho and by waiting until the summer, Levy would have risked allowing Bayern Munich a free run at the 33-year-old.
Tottenham have denied that the timing of Mourinho’s sacking was in any way connected to the club’s participation in the European Super League breakaway, but the extra money generated from it would certainly soften the financial impact of sacking the former Chelsea and Real Madrid manager. And it could also help them try to keep Kane if he can be convinced that, along with competing in the top European competition in the future, Spurs can find a new head coach to help them to compete for silverware.
How Telegraph Sport broke Jose Mourinho story
Mourinho had not lost the entire dressing-room, but the divisions have been there for all to see since the very first game of the season, when he substituted Dele Alli at half-time in the opening-day defeat to Everton that shocked the former England international’s team-mates.
Other than Alli, at different moments Mourinho has frozen out Danny Rose, Harry Winks, Steven Bergwijn, Serge Aurier and, perhaps most significantly, loan signing Gareth Bale, who did not come off the substitutes’ bench in the draw with Everton in front of Levy at Goodison Park.
Bale’s return had been driven by Levy and reluctantly accepted by Mourinho, whose decision to drop the Welshman after substituting him in the North London defeat to Arsenal went down badly.
Bale had scored six goals in seven games before the trip to the Emirates, but he was dragged off after 57 minutes against Arsenal last month and has not started a game since. Mourinho threw on Bale with half-an-hour remaining in what proved to be the most damaging result of his reign – the 3-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb that saw Tottenham crash out of the Europa League.
More defeats, fewer trophies: How Jose lost his touch
Having won the competition on his two previous appearances in it, Mourinho was able to use potential qualification for the Champions League from the Europa League as a carrot to dangle in front of Levy, but, with that gone, there was little for Spurs to cling on to.
It was after the humiliation in Zagreb that captain Hugo Lloris laid bare the dissatisfaction and divisions within the squad that had already been hinted at when Aurier had left the Spurs stadium after being substituted at half-time against Liverpool in January.
Lloris said: “We are a club full of ambition, but the team at the moment is just a reflection of what is going on at the club.“To behave as a team is the most difficult thing in football.
“Whatever the decision of the manager, you have to follow the way of the team. If you only follow the way of the team when you are in the starting XI it causes big problems for the team.”
But perhaps the words that will prove to be the epitaph on Mourinho’s time at Tottenham will be the statement that in many ways confirmed there was no way back for him.
“Same coach, different players,” was how Mourinho summed up Tottenham’s inability to hold on to a lead at Newcastle United, but Levy ultimately decided on the same players, different coach.
Timeline: Mourinho’s ups and downs at Spurs