It’s the last weekend before the start of the new Premier League season and we have another installment of the Amazon All or Nothing series covering Tottenham Hotspur’s 2019-20 season. Chronologically, episodes 4-6 cover the post honeymoon phase of the José Mourinho era during the busy Christmas period and finishes on the eve of the Champions League Round of 16 tie with Red Bull Leipzig (spoiler alert – it didn’t go well).
The emergence of Japhet Tanganga, an overwhelmed physio team, strategies behind the January transfer window and an untimely injury to Son Heung Min (among others) were the major themes for the second of three installments of All or Nothing. Thus, I wanted to outline some personal winners and losers of episodes 4-6 with the caveat that this series is becoming more meticulously selective about the the polished narratives it is trying to create rather then the truly raw, fly-on-the-wall kind of experience some may have hoped for. Nonetheless, it continues to be highly entertaining.
Sweet sweet Japhet. Any soccer (football) fan loves a homegrown story, it practically writes itself. Yet, we often times can romanticize academy products in a way that becomes more hyperbole than reality and it can result in some negative repercussions for the player and expectations surrounding them in comparison to their explicit body of work. With that in mind, it is an arduous task to not feel excited about Tanganga who has been with Spurs since the age of 9 (and still lives with his parents!).
Most refreshing about his interviews is the authenticity that he projects in a way that despite his maturity for his age, he really is still a kid (aged 20 at the time of filming). Confessing that “I just started to cry a bit” when he found out he would be making his Premier League debut vs. league leaders Liverpool was more heartwarming because of his own admission of feeling star struck by his unassuming ascension into the first team. Followed by a Man of the Match performance in the FA Cup vs Middlesborough, the exclamations of “TANGANGA” from the squad as he goes back to the locker room makes for a very warm viewing experience. Japhet’s earnest comments about fulfilling a life long dream and wanting to repay his family’s support in his young career, the now 21 year-old defender only comes off as well grounded and charismatically dewy-eyed.
This may be a surprising pick considering during these episodes Eriksen finally gets his labored exit from the club with a transfer to Inter Milan. However, his inclusion here under winners is based on his public perception at the time of this ongoing discussion about his eventual departure compared to the footage we get access to in hindsight within Spurs’ facilities.
Eriksen faced heavy criticism from fans and media alike about the distraction he created within the squad with his comments in the summer about wanting a new challenge and his body language on the pitch that led many to believe he had already figuratively hung up his boots prematurely before his exit. However, for all intents and purposes, Eriksen appears calm and measured in his desires throughout this docuseries, still very much in and around the squad. The perceived alienation he had created with his teammates was certainly not validated with the coverage we saw, and more likely emblematic of an introverted and dry character rather than a malicious instigator.
His discussion about his move with Daniel Levy and José Mourinho was reiterated to not be a financial one, confirmed by both Levy and Eriksen themselves. José Mourinho adds in his own remarks “You don’t do you best because you don’t want to….you are professional, I can only say good things.” The meeting paints a picture of a player caught between a club trying to get a maximum fee for a player of his quality, and the player himself who feels helpless because he doesn’t have control over the negotiations at hand. Eriksen has always had a mysterious and stoic personality, and getting this insight helped combat some of the public narratives made about his supposed spiteful intentions as he exited the club. I for one, was happy to see that.
The club captain’s return from injury after a gruesome elbow injury during this installment was a surprising winner for me. The armband is a symbolic symbol for anyone who wears it and with it – comes a certain level of expectations of how to carry yourself. Often times we associate it with extroverted and boastful characters that lead with the emotions on their sleeve. Hugo Lloris, similar to Christian Eriksen, has never had that kind of in your face type of personality often times leading by example rather than with his voice; but upon his return to the squad I saw a side of him that we as fans rarely get to see.
Most notably in his pre-match motivational speeches, Hugo picks his moments quite well as to when to be more vocal in his leadership. Most notably during halftime of the FA Cup match vs Southampton, Hugo is the sole voice in an eerily quiet locker room demanding accountability from the squad. A voice that sounds much more commanding than you may have ever thought from the soft spoken goalkeeper. It serves as evidence that there can be different forms of leadership and Lloris doesn’t try to be someone that he’s not; but equally so, he does not shy away from being the loudest voice in the room when he needs to. I suppose we shouldn’t expect anything less from a World Cup winning captain.
José Mourinho’s Team Talk
Mourinho continues to be the central front-facing figure of All or Nothing and the footage we have access to really leans into his team talks over his nuanced tactical strategies. I don’t blame the producers for this approach either; it’s more digestible to show coverage that validates his eloquence as a public speaker during the pre-match and halftime team talks. “The most important thing in life (and football) is courage, honesty, good feelings, and friendship” was a memorable sound bite and coupled with his surprisingly vulnerable moment about professing his mental absence at training because his dog died on Christmas Eve, it seems intentional by the Amazon team to create this perception of Mourinho as a ruthless leader but also someone who has unexpected moments of vulnerability.
Intentional or not, these episodes prove insightful to the bread and butter of Mourinho as an emotional motivator to his players (and their need for “big balls”) but more thought provoking was the variance in emotions from the man himself as he faces different challenges.
José Mourinho’s Tactics Talk
Double dipping in winners and losers this time, José’s inclusion under losers may have more to do with the way the Amazon producers have edited his tactical discussions. During the Christmas period and into the new year was a time when Spurs were struggling to create and finish chances (missing Harry Kane is a valid excuse as any) but I found the messages Mourinho was trying to communicate during these tactical discussions to not match with what happened on the pitch.
He continually references a need to press high and be an aggressive attacking side in his prematch team talks. However, often times during these matches Spurs defaulted to mid and low blocks while struggling to create many chances on the counter evidenced by the results. Somewhat ironically, Mourinho calls for a high press vs one of the highest pressing sides in the FA Cup vs. Southampton. Additionally, before a marquee win vs Manchester City, Mourinho cites the need to attack and be organized when in possession (creating a humorous moment with Jan Vertonghen looking on in confusion) which despite the win, was not the reason Spurs emerged victorious that day. Again, this could just be a result of ill-placed editing, and an attempt by the Amazon team to reach a wider audience by not digging deeper into José’s tactical approach which as a viewer, was disappointing. We don’t know the full extent of the tactical direction of Mourinho but I found there to be a disconnect between what was being presented as a high pressing attacking outfit, and how the squad actually played during this time.
Like Mourinho I think this has to be a nuanced take on what is deemed a loser here. Spurs’ longest serving current player, Danny Rose is no stranger to polarizing opinion as he famously is not afraid to speak his mind both publicly and privately on anything ranging from football, to mental health, or on the COVID pandemic. I find it refreshing for a player to not be as painfully media trained as most players and someone who will live with the consequences of his remarks. He will get flak for his combative approach to his 1v1 discussion with Mourinho about his lack of playing time but, he seemed to have validated criticisms of Mourinho’s lack of communication about where he stands within the squad. Or at the very least it is on brand for Rose to react this way, especially considering when Mourinho arrived, he emphasized to the players that they will know how he feels about them and there will not be any gray area for players to tread water within.
However, Rose’s own self belief may have caused him to overplay his hand during the January transfer window and that’s why he’s on the loser list. This was a campaign where he made limited cameos in the team but in his mind – he still see himself as someone who should be apart of England’s squad for the upcoming Euros. So when Daniel Levy presents a permanent deal to Bournemouth, and adds there is interest for a loan to Newcastle, Rose’s response? – “Did you follow up with (AC) Milan?” – just speaks to the somewhat delusional self-confidence Rose has and also a bit of naivety about what his value is perceived publicly. His subsequent quiet exit to Newcastle on loan is a cautionary tale about a respected and uncompromising figure that seemed to not be able to read the room.
It’s fitting that in a time of the season where the squad was ravaged by injuries (Hugo Lloris, Ben Davies, Harry Kane, Moussa Sissoko, Erik Lamela, and Son Heung-Min to name a few) that Geoff Scott, Head of Medicine & Sports Science, becomes a central figure during these episodes. Scott himself comes across quite well in my opinion, someone who appears dedicated to his work and understands the pressures of such a vital role at a top Premier League club. Why he finds himself in the loser’s column is more from a perspective of empathy. Empathy because Scott is more times then not, the bearer of bad news regarding injuries, and in hindsight there were a lot of them.
His updates to Mourinho about who is the latest player to be added to the injury list is quite captivating. There seems to be a constant tension between Scott and Mourinho, with the latter having quite negative and dismissive body language during each briefing. Scott on the other hand, is constantly fighting against a manager who understandably just wants his players to be available, while Scott often has to drag the manager back down to reality about the severity of each injury. When Mourinho finds out about the extent of Son Heung-Min’s arm fracture as a potentially season ending injury, the tension only intensifies with Mourinho citing his own personal injuries as rationale to keep Son available. It’s a classic don’t shoot the messenger situation and when trying to juggle a squad that is dropping like flies around him, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Geoff.