There is a school of thought that Tottenham Hotspur can win the Premier League in England. Locally, this school exists mainly on a bench outside The Done Right Inn, an otherwise commonsensical bar on Queen Street West in Toronto.
When canvassing opinion from the bench the other day I was told, “We were in sixth the other day. And we’ve got him now.” The “him” is Jose Mourinho, and the woozy optimism that currently engulfs Tottenham supporters the world over is the Mourinho effect. Happens every time the Portuguese braggart arrives somewhere new. Been happening now for 15 years since he swaggered from Porto to Chelsea and declared himself special.
Soccer, like European history, repeats itself over and over. Stick around long enough and the loop repeats. Jose Mourinho won’t go away, and that’s only the half of it.
In truth, he usually steers a team toward some trophy or other. And you knew, you just knew, that he would turn up again this season in the EPL game. Customarily, when Mourinho is fired or falls out with a club’s owners, he retreats to his mansion in Portugal and sulks. This time, you sensed he was lurking in London daily, just waiting for a role to play as soon as a manager at a top club was about to exit the stage. That was Tottenham Hotspur’s Mauricio Pochettino.
The Premier League matters more to Mourinho than his successes in Portugal, Italy and Spain. It’s the hurly-burly. The intense media coverage – all those microphones, cameras and tape recorders in dire need of a quote – the international audience, too, and the issue of getting even or proving a point. It’s about him, only him, and that’s what many supporters can disremember.
Mourinho is like one of those famous British actors, a Sir-somebody, the ones you know are guaranteed to turn up in every BBC drama. (My old dad just calls him “Jose,” and can quote him extemporaneously, as if he were a regular at the local pub. Which he is, really, given his ubiquity.) The drama Mourinho specializes in, these days, is fairy tales. Magic will happen. Ta-da!
In the case of Tottenham, Mourinho didn’t need to do much, actually. For the first few months of this season Tottenham’s on-field tactic was to play like a bunch of disturbed ants. Willy-nilly, the players ran about, catastrophically disorganized. Harry Kane stood around somewhere and wondered forlornly if a disturbed ant might accidentally pass the ball to him. Not often, as it happened.
This had all the hallmarks of obstinate players deciding to displace the manager by underperforming. It happens frequently in club soccer these days. When Pochettino was fired as Tottenham Hotspur manager last month the club was 14th in the Premier League table with 14 points from 12 games. Pochettino had been in charge for just over five years. Typically, that’s when a cabal of players either leaves or freezes out the manager.
What Mourinho has done is simply show up and ask the players nicely to perform to their ability. He’s the shiny new thing they wanted, so they do as asked. Besides, as a major sulker, he fits in well with a bunch of guys who take the sulking adolescent’s approach to getting rid of the adult authority figure.
Thus we have had Tottenham‘s 5-0 thrashing of Burnley on the weekend, a 4-2 win over Olympiakos in the Champions League, a 3-2 victory at West Ham and a nervy 1-2 defeat to Manchester United. Magic. Ta-da!
Really, all Jose Mourinho has done so far is arrive. And still some supporters believe fervently in his genius, even believing that Tottenham Hotspur can win the EPL. Fairy tales can come true, but that bench outside The Done Right Inn is a very small bench.
Meanwhile in Germany
You have to back to the 1970s to conceptualize what’s going on in the Bundesliga. (Sportsnet airs Bundesliga matches most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.) At long last Bayern Munich appears to be in decline.
Bayern has won the German title for the past seven years with an inevitability that became shockingly boring. After this past weekend’s results, the club is in sixth, seven points behind the top team. And who is that? Why it’s Borussia Monchengladbach, who last won the Bundesliga title in 1977.
There was a time when Monchengladbach defined European elegance and success. There must be soccer fans old enough, like me, to remember when Berti Vogts, nicknamed Der Terrier, defended with sagacity for Monchengladbach, famously against Liverpool in European Cup competitions, and specifically against Kevin Keegan. Right now, Liverpool is the champion of Europe, headed toward a championship title in England. If Liverpool plays Monchengladbach in next year’s Champions League, then time and history will have lost all meaning.