“The best team lost,” Jose Mourinho slammed to Jurgen Klopp as managers Spurs and Liverpool bumped their fists on the Anfield sideline on Wednesday night.
Klopp laughed, which was the right reaction. The best team lost? He was a classic Mourinho: graceless and unintentionally funny. We can add it to the exhibits in his Hubris collection, although we’re going to have to build a bigger museum.
The best team lost? Well if you prefer a concrete block of flats to the Colosseum then yes. If you prefer a petrified forest to nature in full bloom, then yes. If you prefer caution to daring, then yes.
Final whistle at Anfield saw Jose Mourinho tell Jurgen Klopp ‘best team lost’
Liverpool manager could only smile at Mourinho’s explosion of random petulance
If you’d rather hide around the corner until the coast is free to go on an adventure, then yes. If you would rather play without the ball than with the ball, then yes, the better team lost.
But if you value creativity above destruction, if you want to see your team speak out, if you don’t want to see your side cover themselves on the ropes when they play decent opposition, then you will realize the idea that the best team lost when the league’s top two encountered is a mistake. Spurs have pushed Liverpool close. But the best team won.
The truth is that under Mourinho the famous old Spurs motto has been rewritten. To dare is to do has become To dare is not to. Caution is now the watchword. Passive aggression. Absorb the pressure. The identity of Spurs was always meant to be attacking and attractive football. Not anymore.
At Anfield, Spurs were very limited and had two shots on target the entire game
Yes, there is an austere beauty to the Tottenham side that Mourinho has bastardized from the squad bequeathed to him by Mauricio Pochettino.
Functional, formidable, superbly organized, and down to the bone in 90% of what it does, it explodes into savage glory in bursts of lonely and mind-boggling counterattack brilliance, channeled by Harry Kane and Son Heung-min .
In these moments, yes, the Spurs are magnificent to watch. Klopp called them a “counterattacking monster”. His is my player of the season so far. And when they strike back, they do it so well, they’re hard to stop.
But once the fireworks have started, you often have to wait a long time for the next one. And between the two, the night is as black as pitch. On Wednesday, Spurs had two shots on target throughout the game.
In his new book, The Greatest Games, Jamie Carragher points out that there is no “right way” to win a football game and it is true. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and some revere Mourinho as a tactician and find pleasure in his smashing football and relentless search for ways to thwart the greater ambitions of others.
There are times when destruction is nice. Spurs looked superb against Manchester City when they met in north London last month. That day, yes, it was the best team. The city was too easily unhooked, too easily exposed. Their offensive play was strong on possession but weak on conviction. The Spurs deserved to win.
Mourinho is the antithesis of coaches like Klopp and Marcelo Bielsa (above) who play to attack
But overall, there is something dark about Mourinho’s philosophy. It’s hard not to lean towards the more proactive, attacking and creative football of teams led by men like Pep Guardiola, Klopp and Marcelo Bielsa.
Oh, and Pochettino, who has accomplished so much at Spurs playing a much more entertaining style of football than Mourinho. It’s a personal preference. We all have the right.
It wouldn’t be fun if every manager played the same. Part of the magic of football is that there are so many competing philosophies. But fear is at the heart of Mourinho’s football. It governs him. His dominant emotion is fear of what an opponent might do to him. And the beauty of his fear is that it makes us appreciate the courage of men like Guardiola, Klopp and Bielsa even more.
We need ugliness in order for beauty to be brought out more clearly and Mourinho provides it. He demands that beautiful football work harder to beat him. If City are to get the upper hand over Spurs later this season, they’re going to have to excel. A Mourinho team is an obstacle to collapse. It is an obstacle to overcome for the best teams.
It’s only fitting that some Spurs fans take refuge in the denial of the style Mourinho introduced. It has been so long since they won anything that it is hard to regret their willingness to embrace the pursuit of success by any means necessary.
They made a deal with Mourinho and, if he wins them the title, he will have fulfilled his party and more. It will be up there with the greatest achievements of his career.
Roberto Firmino’s late header sank Spurs, whose motto should now be ‘Dare is not’
Spurs look like a team that will be in this title race until the end. It’s a strange season and Mourinho has built an efficient and ruthless machine. If Liverpool falters, they will be there. If City don’t regain their old balance, Spurs will be there. This is their optimal time.
Next season will be Mourinho’s third at the club and history tells us he is not a long-term manager. Evidence suggests that his narcissism begins to bitch his players after a while.
If he doesn’t win the league this season, then the market wasn’t worth it. Pochettino allowed Spurs to finish second in the Premier League, let alone the Champions League final, encouraging his side to play football which was a pleasure to watch.
If Mourinho is better, it will have been worth it. If not, Spurs fans could still reflect on the fact that they traded do not.
Don’t blame Wenger
In the festival of criticism of Arsenal’s current fate, some fans have sought to blame Arsene Wenger. If it wasn’t so funny, it would be sad.
The truth is, Wenger’s wise management camouflaged the financial restrictions on spending in the Emirates for years.
Arsenal’s current fate shows how good Arsene Wenger really was
He always kept Arsenal in the top four, almost until the end of his tenure. He was blasted when he finished sixth. Arsenal are currently 15th, which puts things in perspective.
So, no, the fault is not Wenger’s. Nor is it Mikel Arteta’s. It is time for Arsenal supporters to stop pointing fingers at their managers and to look at ownership and the decisions that have been made by Stan Kroenke.
Arsenal were once the model of a well-run club. Not anymore.
Flashback to Christmas concussions
I am grateful to John Armstrong from Bangor in Northern Ireland for sending a photo of a page of this column from an edition of The Mail on Sunday in March 2016.
The column warned of an upcoming judgment day for contact sports over their attitude toward concussion-related injuries.
I would like to be able to report that Mr. Armstrong had examined the room at regular intervals, but he said he rolled the page when he unwrapped his Christmas decorations.
At least that’s a step up from the fish and chips paper of tomorrow.
For the sake of the well-being of the players, there is a growing argument for the introduction of five substitutes in this Premier League season. Sadly, there is also a compelling argument for the rump of the clubs in the division which harbors a deep suspicion of anything the top flight has to offer. Some big clubs seem to think they can claim that the proposals for the Big Stitch-Up project were never disclosed. But they were. Small clubs also have souvenirs.