A Wembley final may be unfamiliar territory for Spurs, but Mourinho is now on the brink of becoming the most successful coach in League Cup history, underlining why the club opted for a surprising union with the 57-year-old.
Mourinho has won the competition four times, level with Pep Guardiola – whose Manchester City face neighbours United in Wednesday’s other semi-final – Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough.
Clough credited Nottingham Forest’s triumph in the now-defunct Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1977 as the key to turning his players into winners and Forest also won two League Cups before going on to make history with consecutive European Cups.
Mourinho similarly hopes that winning the Carabao Cup Final on April 25 will give many of his players an appetising first taste of silverware, as Spurs bid to win a first trophy since their success in this competition in 2008.
The Portuguese took the same approach in both spells at Chelsea, winning the 2005 League Cup before leading the club to back-to-back League titles. He repeated the trick when he returned to Stamford Bridge in 2014, winning that season’s League Cup and Premier League crown, while at Manchester United he won the competition in 2017 before going on to claim the Europa League.
“I came to England in 2004 and I remember that in that period I had to learn the meaning of the cups here and I always took [the League Cup] seriously,” he said.
Mourinho’s approach is a marked changed from his Tottenham predecessor, Mauricio Pochettino, who once said winning a domestic cup would “change nothing” about his trophy-shy squad and insisted the Premier League and Champions League were the only “real” trophies.
Under Pochettino, Spurs came within touching distance of glory, losing to Mourinho’s Chelsea in this competition in 2015 – their last Wembley final – and reaching the 2019 Champions League Final and two FA Cup semi-finals. They also ran Leicester and Chelsea close in consecutive Premier League title races.
Ultimately, Pochettino’s Spurs always fell short and the manager faced criticism for not taking the domestic cups more seriously, amid accusations he was trying to teach his players to run before they could walk.
Mourinho’s appointment in November 2019 signalled a change in approach for Spurs, a move away from a “project” manager to a pragmatist, who guarantees to treat any chance of silverware with equal importance. With Tuesday night’s win, Mourinho has taken a huge step to achieving what he was appointed to do.
Under Mourinho, winning this season’s League Cup, while seismic for the club, would only be seen as a signpost towards more significant successes.
Such questions still feel premature, however, with Spurs facing a three-and-a-half month wait until the final after the EFL delayed the showpiece.
The long wait feels in keeping with Spurs’s curious run to this stage, which included a comparable break between the September win over Chelsea on penalties and the quarter-final against Stoke on December 23.
After being given a bye in the third round, following a coronavirus outbreak at opponents Leyton Orient, Spurs have played just three matches, two against Championship opposition, but, just as against Stoke, Mourinho underlined his commitment to the competition by taking no chances.
He stuck with his trusted spine of Hugo Lloris, Eric Dier, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Heung-min Son and Harry Kane, and Spurs won in a manner typical of their manager, controlling the game at 1-0 before hitting Brentford with a lethal counter-attack finished by Son. Moussa Sissoko offered a reminder of his capabilities with the shackles off, heading Spurs into a 12th-minute lead.
Brentford, who finished with 10 men after Josh Dasilva’s late red card, thought they had equalised when Ivan Toney headed over the line, only for the forward to be ruled offside by the VAR.
Mourinho can now afford to rest his stars in Sunday’s FA Cup tie at Marine as his attentions turn to bigger prizes.