Is Jose Mourinho’s anti-football brilliant or just boring? Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers insists the Tottenham boss should be respected for his approach ahead of their showdown this weekend
- Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho has faced criticism for playing defensive football
- Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers knows Mourinho from their time at Chelsea
- The Foxes coach is still fond of Mourinho and has defended his pragmatic tactics
Brian Clough used to place the ball in the centre of the dressing room and tell his players to go out and pass it to each other. One wonders what the Jose Mourinho equivalent would be.
Football without the ball. It is a concept that continues to divide opinion.
Some see it as an affront. Anti-football, they call it. Others see the value of the work of a defensive coach. After all, effective counter-attacking does not happen by accident.
Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho (right) has been questioned for an at-times stubborn approach
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers worked with Mourinho at Chelsea and is an admirer of his
Whatever the case, for Tottenham under Mourinho it is the way it has been of late and the chances are it is the way it will continue to be.
Thirty per cent of possession against Arsenal in a game they won. Twenty four per cent of possession against Liverpool on Wednesday in a game they lost but could, on the balance of good chances, have also won.
These are numbing numbers for a club whose motto — To Dare is to Do — points to adventure. They are statistics that point to a comprehensive turnaround in strategy imposed by Mourinho on his squad in the year since he took over from Mauricio Pochettino.
They are also, one senses, percentages that will be tolerated by supporters and players just as long as Tottenham are winning. Second in the Premier League table ahead of their game at home to Leicester, Mourinho has the scales tipped in his favour. For now.
Statistics that highlight how unadventurous Spurs are will be tolerated while they are winning
‘You love the word possession and you love the stats,’ said Mourinho to journalists yesterday. ‘Sometimes you say, ‘The stats say Player B had 92 per cent of efficiency in his passing’. But the stats don’t say that a player only made passes of two metres.
‘And the stats don’t say the guy who had only 65 per cent of efficiency on his passes is the guy who made the assist, is the guy who makes 60-metre passes to change the direction of the play.
‘So the stats are like an incredible piece of meat or fish, but badly cooked. It doesn’t tell me much. What it tells me is the goals scored and the chances created.’
From that point of view, Mourinho has evidence on his side. His team’s two goals against Arsenal were breathtaking defence-to- attack creations. So, too, Spurs’ goal against Liverpool.
Mourinho and Foxes boss Rodgers have met on numerous occasions as managerial adversaries
When it works, it is stunning to watch. When it does not, the only guarantee is that questions about Mourinho’s approach to his craft will continue to come.
‘I’m not working in search of any recognition,’ he said rather defiantly yesterday. ‘OK, 15 years ago when I arrived in England and I was probably a bit too arrogant for what you were used to, maybe I was. But I’m not now. I work for my club and my players. I try to give happiness to the people who love my club where I work.
‘I am very ambitious, that hasn’t changed. I think you can still read on my face that to lose hurts me the same. But that situation of looking for some recognition? That’s not for me. I don’t care.’
As hard as that is to believe, it is nevertheless difficult not to admire Mourinho in some small way. His conviction in his methods is clear, something that Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers has noticed.
Having worked with Mourinho at Chelsea a decade and a half ago, Rodgers noted yesterday that he has not seen his old boss so comfortable in his own skin for some time.
Rodgers is a possession-based coach and it is likely his team will be invited to enjoy much of the ball.
Rodgers encourages his team to have plenty of possession and Spurs may accommodate that
But asked whether there was a snobbery in England about defensive football, he said: ‘Yes, I think there is. As you get more experienced, you learn to respect the different ways of winning games.
‘I see now the Jose I knew at Chelsea for the first time in a long time. I see a guy who really believes. He has top-class players who have clearly bought into the way he is working.
‘Tottenham are renowned for playing a stylistic type of football but I am sure the supporters will be happy with the results.
‘To ask players who are really talented to sometimes control the game without the ball is a challenge. Most top players want to have the ball. So that’s a skill in itself, to coach and manage players that there is a different way and teach them that by playing this other way it’s possible to get a result. At Tottenham, that is what you see. They have bought into it.’
Rodgers’ fondness for Mourinho is clear but that final point is the key one. The Tottenham manager is asking some talented attacking players — namely Harry Kane and Son Heung-min — to operate largely in the middle third of the field. Others — Dele Alli, Gareth Bale and Harry Winks — are not in the team at all.
These are high-tariff moves by Mourinho. Winks, for example, will probably leave. And though Mourinho obfuscated when asked whether his was a long-term commitment to football centred on what is now called a low block and was once called defending, it would appear that it is.
Mourinho’s way is to win rather than to please. You could argue it was ever thus.
Mourinho has indisputably prioritised results over pretty football on many occasions this term
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