Hello, and welcome to another edition of Tactically Naive, SB Nation’s weekly soccer column. No, we don’t want the Everton job.
The master of mind games is back
On the off-chance you’ve spent the last week encased in a hermetically sealed coffin, we’ve got some news. Are you sitting down? Okay. Jose Mourinho is now manager of Tottenham Hotspur.
Oh wait, you suffocated to death six days days ago. Probably a blessing in disguise.
But no! Jose Mourinho’s Hot Spurs won! Away from home. And the fact that this game came against a West Ham side that were (a) dreadful, (b) really dreadful, and (c) like, just so appallingly dreadful that you wouldn’t believe, should not be allowed to diminish this moment. The Adjective-To-Be-Determined One is back, baby!
And are Spurs? Well … maybe. Before the game, Mourinho had a little pep talk for Dele Alli —
“I asked him if he was Dele or Dele’s brother,” Mourinho says. “He told me he was Dele. ‘OK,’ I said. ‘Play like Dele.’”
— and those of us that rolled our eyes at this obvious nonsense soon looked very silly indeed. Alli had his best game for some time, drifting around menacingly behind Harry Kane and looking almost his old, impish self. And though he didn’t score, he did provide the moment of the match: a cute pass down the line for Son Heung-Min, who would go on to set up Lucas Moura.
A cute pass played while looking the other way. And sitting down.
Fine, so Tottenham fell asleep after an hour and West scored a couple of cheap goals. Tactically Naive saw enough from Mourinho’s Spurs to suggest that they could go on to achieve their most important goal this season. No, not the Champions League. No, not qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
The entire point of Mourinho going to Tottenham is for Mourinho to take Tottenham to the Emirates and beat Arsenal in a game so rancid, so utterly abysmal, that the English press run out of ways to say “That was a disgrace”. He’s already admitted the title’s out of reach this season, and he’s got work to do to convince his new fans that he isn’t just a former Chelsea man, drained of whatever made him special.
How better to do that, than to mastermind a filthy 1-0 win at the Emirates, then get arrested for planting his [redacted] in [redacted] and getting [redacted] all over the [redacted] [redacted] [redacted].
The Tragical Tale of Philip Anthony Jones
You know what you’re getting with Phil Jones. Mistakes. Injuries. Unexpected horizontality. Moments where he threatens to look like the glorious dominant central defender that Alex Ferguson once saw in him; other moments where he looks like QWOP. And overall, a kind of lingering sadness. For Jones isn’t a bad footballer, though he is often a disastrous one. He is a footballer out of time.
Not just when it comes to the details of defending: the running, the tackling, the expectation that a central defender should be somehow more than a weaponised lump of angry meat. No, Phil Jones’ unfortunate lack of timing — his two-footed jump into the wrong era of history — has robbed him of a quieter but infinitely happier career.
Had he come through at Blackburn in that long stretch of history where football wasn’t ridiculous he might have carried on there, by turns brilliant and calamitous, and taken his rightful place as a local cult hero. He’d have lifted the FA Cup as captain; he’d have blinked back tears as Rovers went down. He’d have retired aged 42, after 850 appearances, with more scars and fewer teeth than is typical, and local artists would already be making sketches for his statue.
But no. Jones was born in the early 1990s and came to prominence in 2010, and that meant he got sucked into the grand vortex of the Premier League Big Clubs. Alex Ferguson liked the look of him, so Manchester United had to have him; this is no country for cult heroes. Not any more. They go to big clubs and they get churned out the other side. The nation is filled with statues that will never be built.
Admittedly, Jones hasn’t quite been churned out the other side of Manchester United yet — he’s still there! — but we can blame that on the quite remarkable mess everybody at the club is making of everything. And sure enough, when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wheeled him out on Saturday against Sheffield United, we all knew what was coming next.
There’s the ball, in the air. There’s Phil Jones, on the floor. And there’s the ball again, in the goal.
A brief look at how completely stuffed Everton are
This weekend, Everton lost, 2-0, at home to Norwich City. Marco Silva, who was once the New Mourinho before Mourinho himself rudely decided he wanted to be the New Mourinho, is a dead manager walking, up and down his technical area, misery written all over his Colin Farrell face.
That result leaves them just four points above the relegation zone and there is, given how things have been going and how the Premier League works, almost no chance that Silva keeps his job. Or so we thought. Until we looked at the fixture list:
Leicester away; Liverpool away; Chelsea at home; Manchester United away; Leicester at home in the League Cup; and Arsenal at home.
And ... yeah. Don’t give a new manager that lot. Let Silva take the thumpings; let the replacement pick up the pieces. With one exception: if David Moyes is going to make a glorious return, then make it happen before the trip to Old Trafford. Sure, the side might be rubbish. But United are pretty terrible too, and the surely Narrative, the great god of chaos, will smile on such an audacious sacrifice.
Giving it the full Berbatov
Say what you like about direct football, but sometimes it looks glorious.
Nominee for the first-touch Hall of Fame pic.twitter.com/7nZYFj6AGY— John D. Halloran (@JohnDHalloran) November 25, 2019
Tactically Naive is delighted to announce the inauguration of the Velvet Shoe award, to be given at the end of each season to whichever footballer pulls off the silliest, silkiest first touch. Assuming we don’t completely forget about it five minutes after filing this column. But either way, Chelsea’s Beth England is an early favourite.