Wherever Jose Mourinho goes, he is always the story. Just minutes into his first game as Tottenham Hotspur boss, a 3-2 win at West Ham United, the narrative surrounding him was overwhelmingly positive. He was back to his brash, confident best, the sort of bravado not seen since his first spell at Chelsea 15 years prior, and his presence appeared all Spurs needed to blow away the cobwebs formed in the final few weeks of Mauricio Pochettino’s reign.
Fast forward to now, though, and the same headlines that have haunted the Portuguese over recent years have returned; questions are being asked about whether he’s had his day and it all feels like it did for the bulk of his time at Manchester United.
In reality, Mourinho’s impact was never quite as strong as reported at the time, and the issues aren’t as damning as is being said now. But the story is always extreme because that is what he is, rightly or wrongly. If anything, the troubles Tottenham are facing run deeper than Mourinho and have been brewing for months, if not years.
Pochettino was hugely popular with players and supporters, but there was a feeling of acceptance about his departure which suggested it was the right time; key members of the squad, such as Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen, were running down contracts and looking set to leave, which is still the case. The club failed to bring in a striker to compete with and cover Harry Kane; it is not Mourinho’s fault that they are ruing that now he is injured until April.
January transfer activity seemed unlikely for Spurs, especially with Mourinho waxing lyrical about the quality within his squad upon arrival. Naturally, that may have changed with the news about Kane, and talks have reportedly begun over a move for AC Milan striker Krzysztof Piatek, who was previously linked with Aston Villa and both Newcastle United.
While the Pole has tailed off at San Siro after a positive impact initially, he would suit Spurs because he is a bona fide goal scorer, born to finish the chances being created but not converted by the likes of Son Heung-Min, Dele Alli and Lucas Moura recently.
Son often plays through the middle when Kane isn’t there but struggles to operate with his back to goal and be a focal point, which is something Mourinho likes in his strikers. Prior to Kane’s injury, Spurs were linked with Atletico Madrid outcast Thomas Lemar, though the story may not have had much substance other than the fact he is now available and had previously been on their radar.
The Frenchman was signed for big money by Atleti around 18 months ago, but having been billed as a potential gamechanger for Diego Simeone, he has fallen out of favour. He would still make a great deal of sense for Spurs, however; this remains a viable option even if their priorities have shifted.
The issues Mourinho would have with Lemar are similar to Simeone; he demands discipline from flair players and this is something the winger lacks. The Atleti boss ripped into the 24-year-old last week, claiming he has not met expectations at the Wanda Metropolitano.
“Lemar is an important player who hasn't been able to develop his game but who has characteristics that others don't have. His characteristics have always excited me. But he hasn't been able to live up to expectations,” he told press before Atletico's game against Levante
Mourinho has proven before that he can get the most out of players of that ilk; despite one well documented falling out at Real Madrid, he turned Mesut Özil into a world-beater, before he moved to Arsenal and become known for his laziness. The system change Lemar would allow could also turn fortunes for Spurs; because Mourinho has reduced the need for a high press, they are no longer as effective in transition as they were at their best under Pochettino, instead of looking to play through Son, who is expected to do a job that isn’t his.
All of the attacking players at Mourinho’s disposal currently are best running into space, but to make them into a real counter attacking unit, they need a dribbler on either side of the striker. Son has shown prowess with the ball at his feet, but it isn’t his best trait as it is with Lucas and, crucially Lemar. Spurs haven’t been able to get in behind teams, but this signing would allow a crucial tactical shift to happen.
This is a deal that may or may not happen, but the loss of their talisman should make Spurs give more consideration to Lemar, not less. A good transfer window could set Mourinho on the right track towards a positive storyline once again.