Tottenham on trial: Who deserves the blame for Spurs' slump?

Jose Mourinho (left), Daniel Levy (centre) and Gareth Bale (right) are all getting criticism - GETTY IMAGES / NMC POOL
Jose Mourinho (left), Daniel Levy (centre) and Gareth Bale (right) are all getting criticism - GETTY IMAGES / NMC POOL

Spurs are sixth in the league and host second-placed Manchester United on Sunday with many starting to doubt if Jose Mourinho is the right man for the job.

It has not helped moral that Mourinho is unafraid to publicly criticise his players, individually and collectively, as he showed with his "same coach, different players" jibe after last Sunday's 2-2 draw with Newcastle.

However, internal squad problems have been brewing for a while. Spurs captain Hugo Lloris gave a damning assessment of the state of the dressing room in the wake of their embarrassing Europa League exit to Dinamo Zagreb, suggesting out-of-favour players were causing a "big problem" and that there was a lack of the togetherness that was prevalent during Mauricio Pochettino's spell.

So with all this in mind, we take a closer look at the reasons behind Tottenham's slump...

Jose Mourinho

As ever with Mourinho, it is best to start with him. After all, he is always the centre of attention – which is part of the problem. When he took over as Tottenham head coach in November 2019, Mourinho declared he had changed. “I have had time to think about many things. During my career I have made mistakes,” he said. Did anyone really believe him? No. And so it has transpired. Mourinho has lashed out at his team, passed on the blame, singled out individuals, and it was summed up with his pithy “same coach, different players” comment after Spurs' disappointing draw away to Newcastle in which they again failed to close out the game.

The criticism has taken its toll. Players are fed up, the complaints are rising, there have been grumblings not just about Mourinho’s man-management but also his training – which led to him declaring “mine and my coaching staff’s methods are second to nobody in the world” - and a hope from some within the dressing room that he goes at the end of this campaign. There is pent-up frustration at Mourinho’s conservative tactics and passing the buck rather than the ball. And all this after Mourinho stated he did not need any new signings when he arrived at Spurs, only to then insinuate some players cannot perform at a higher standard.

But the biggest issue is this: Mourinho plays reactive football in a proactive age; is still risk-adverse and is looking increasingly out of step with the modern game. Will winning the Carabao Cup be enough? Not if Spurs fail to qualify for the Champions League or Europa League.

Blame percentage: 40 per cent

The players

Where would Tottenham be without Harry Kane? The striker has excelled in an under-performing team. There have been some respectable contributions around him, led by Son Heung-min and new signing Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, but who else? Maybe Tanguy Ndombele, even if he has still not lived up to his £50 million-plus fee. No, the players have largely under-performed, principally among them Dele Alli and Gareth Bale - and a Jose Mourinho favourite in Eric Dier whose form has simply collapsed. Alli will argue that he has been badly handled by Mourinho but there is also a personal responsibility and his decline in performance pre-dated the present head coach. Mourinho identified this when he succeeded Mauricio Pochettino and joked about “Alli’s brother” having taken his place. While there was a fleeting uplift it did not last. But Alli has been singled out and it has taken its toll on him.

The gamble of signing Bale on loan, hailed as a coup, has just not worked. There have been glimpses of the Bale of old but not in big games, not in games that matter and time is running out. He was not a Mourinho signing but it was up to him to get the best out of Bale. Maybe that was not possible, but it certainly has not happened, which leads to the question: who has improved? Some players appear to have lost heart. They have to share the blame for that.

Blame percentage: 20 per cent

Daniel Levy

The Spurs chairman is certainly not exempt from criticism – as frustrated fans have vented. Levy can, however, point to Mourinho’s verdict that he conducted “amazing” transfer business last summer to apparently improve the squad by signing Hojbjerg, Bale, Sergio Reguilon, Matt Doherty, Joe Rodon, Joe Hart and Carlos Vinicius. Net spend was around £50m – modest compared to some clubs (eight had a higher net spend) but not inconsiderable under the circumstances. Revisionists and Mourinho supporters will argue that was not enough and – particularly – that he was denied the quick, experienced centre-back he wanted. But Levy will counter with he did what he could.

Of course the biggest criticism of Levy is in hiring Mourinho in the first place. Was it the right move? Even at the time it was questioned. It felt like a short-term fix from a star-struck chairman who has always been about long-term planning, even if he had wanted Mourinho since he was first sacked by Chelsea in 2007. Bringing him in also represented a significant gear change and change of style from Pochettino.

Another criticism of Levy is whether he took his eye off the ball given how much time and energy he devoted to the new stadium, while the announcement that staff faced 20 per cent salary reductions or being furloughed on the day the club published accounts showing he received £7m in salary and bonus was badly handled and a PR own goal. One final issue: Spurs are still waiting to secure a lucrative naming rights deal on the stadium. That is Levy’s responsibility.

Blame percentage: 25 per cent

External factors

And finally the mitigation. “The impact of the pandemic on our revenue is material and could not have come at a worse time, having just completed a £1.2 billion stadium build which is financed by club resources and long-term debt,” Levy said in announcing financial results last year, and he is right. Obviously all football clubs have been hit hard but the timing could not have been worse for Tottenham who invested so heavily – sacrificing spending on the team – to deliver a world-class stadium intended to be a 365-day venue with football, NFL, concerts, stores and visitor attractions. It was supposed to be ‘lift-off’ in front of 62,500 fans and generate the income to help propel Spurs to a new level. And in fairness to Mourinho, this was part of the “vision” Levy sold to him. Instead, Spurs had to take out a £175m loan from the Bank of England and profits have been turned into losses with Levy estimating at least a £150m drop in revenue.

Arguably it also came at a time when this Spurs team was at the end of a cycle and in need of a more radical and potentially-costly overall upgrade after reaching the Champions League Final in 2019. It is against this backdrop that Levy has to decide whether to enter into the costly business of replacing Mourinho, although it would be far less expensive than Spurs failing to qualify for Europe.

One final excuse: Spurs – still sixth of the ‘Big Six’ in terms of wage bills - always face the prospect of being outspent and outgunned by their rivals, and Chelsea, in particular, tried to take advantage of that in the last summer window with their £220m spree.

Blame percentage: 15 per cent

What do you think are the reasons behind Tottenham's struggles under Jose Mourinho? Tell us in the comments section below