Tottenham’s results have been far below par of late, but Jose Mourinho has not shied away from his responsibilities.
The Spurs boss – a serial winner in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain – knows he was brought to north London to end a trophy drought which stretches back to 2008.
Mourinho’s first full season in charge at Tottenham has been one of the most hectic of his decorated career, with Europa League qualifying, Covid postponements and key injuries among the many challenges his side has faced.
In the first half of the season, these challenges were negotiated well; Spurs spent some weeks at the top of the Premier League and progressed in the Europa League and Carabao Cup.
In 2021, however, Tottenham’s form has come unstuck.
They have lost four of their last five Premier League games and crashed out of the FA Cup with a 5-4 defeat at Everton in the fifth round.
Spurs’ form in the top flight leaves them battling to stay in the top half of the table and plunges their hopes of finishing in the European spots into serious doubt.
Chairman Daniel Levy’s gamble to replace the hugely-popular Mauricio Pochettino with mercurial Mourinho in November 2019 is on the brink of ending in catastrophic failure.
The same applies to the decision to bring Gareth Bale back from Real Madrid on loan last September.
The Welsh forward has started just two Premier League games since rejoining Spurs and his meagre tally of four goals in all competitions is disappointing to say the least.
Certainly, Levy would have been hoping for much more when he sanctioned a move for Bale – with Spurs contributing £250,000 of his Real Madrid wages – and handed Mourinho a £288,000-per-week contract.
He certainly would not have predicted the pair would be at loggerheads with each other as we approach the business end of the season.
Indeed, Mourinho and Bale’s disagreements over play time and Instagram posts could characterise a severely underwhelming season for Tottenham.
But the duo could also combine to lead Spurs to their first major honour since their League Cup triumph 12-and-a-half years ago.
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As Mourinho pointed out last summer, he has won the Europa League in both of his two seasons contesting the competition – at Porto in 2003 and Manchester United in 2017.
“My record is good. I played the competition twice, I got to the final twice, I won twice,” said the Portuguese. “In the Europa League I was never knocked out.”
Mourinho also won the Champions League with Porto and Inter Milan, while Bale boasts four Champions League winners’ medals thanks to his time with Los Blancos.
Between them, the pair boast the European pedigree Tottenham’s rivals in the Europa League could only dream of – the type of experience that proves vital in the knockout stages.
Presented with a round-of-32 tie against Austrian minnows Wolfsberg, Spurs are huge favourites to put their poor 2021 form behind them and progress to the last 16.
This is not to say all of Tottenham’s eggs are in one basket; they also have the prospect of a Carabao Cup final versus Manchester City to look forward to in April.
The date at Wembley is another chance for Spurs to end their trophy drought and Mourinho would love to end City’s three-season stranglehold on the trophy.
But there is no doubt the Europa League is the grander prize and, crucially for Levy and Tottenham’s wider ambitions, winning the competition guarantees a spot in the the Champions League.
Will Tottenham win the Europa League this season? Have your say in the comments.
Given Tottenham’s recent slide down the table to six points adrift of the top four, going all the way in the Europa League is increasingly looking like their best chance of featuring in Europe’s premier competition next season.
A first triumph in the Europa League since 1984 would certainly justify Tottenham’s outlay on Bale and Mourinho, as they would end their drought and qualify for the Champions League.
On the other hand, Levy’s gamble will be labelled a dismal failure should Spurs end the season without silverware and outside the top four.
On the eve of the knockout stage, his fate may now be in Mourinho and Bale’s hands.
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