It was probably former Prime Minister David Cameron’s finest hour. As fresh-faced opposition leader, taking on Tony Blair for the first time, he goaded his elder with an inspirational retort. ‘You were the future once!’ the young buck told the old hand.
Mourinho, 56, and Klopp, 52, don’t quite play those same roles in terms of their life experience. Yet the line fits for their respective career trajectories, one slow and steady, the other more Icarus-like in the rapidity of its ascent. When Mourinho was blazing a trail across Europe, winning the Champions League final and heading to glamorous west London, Klopp was finishing third in the second tier of the Bundesliga with a club that was a something of a joke in its own city.
There’s no doubting who wears the crown now. It doesn’t take a FIFA coach of the year award and a World Club Cup to identify the world’s most charismatic and admired manager. Even Pep Guardiola has had to take a step back to allow football’s most-feted football to enjoy the centre stage.
Jurgen Klopp had the upper hand on Jose Mourinho again as Liverpool beat Spurs on Saturday
Mourinho’s stock has fallen as Klopp has risen to become arguably the world’s greatest coach
The Reds’ win meant they stretched their start to the season to a record 22 games undefeated
Mourinho was that future once. He set the agenda then. He believes he might still again. That’s why he’s here at Tottenham and not in Qatar or China, to prove his greatest achievements aren’t behind him. His entrance here six weeks ago was breezy and his effect immediate. They enjoyed the bounce. Now they’re on the downside of that parabolic curve with one win in five in the Premier League. Back to life, back to reality, as one eminent north Londoner of these parts once put it.
The diminution of Tottenham without Harry Kane was a problem Mauricio Pochettino often had to work around, as was the realisation that you will never be kings of the transfer window here. It may be a better all round here than being at Old Trafford. Yet it’s not Real Madrid. Nor is it Chelsea in those early free-spending days.
You suspect, deep down, Mourinho relished this challenge against Klopp. At heart, the man who cavorted down the Old Trafford touchline as Porto manager 16 years ago loves to characterise himself as the underdog. Perhaps that was the reason for giving 20-year-old Japhet Tanganga his Premier League debut. For one thing, it helps counter the accusation that he has no interest in the emerging generation. This is Jose 2.0.
And it also feeds his chosen narrative. Mourinho loves the schtick of us against the world. ‘It would be very easy to say all those low crosses, with Harry Kane, one-touch, one goal,’ he said. ‘It would be very easy to take the press conference in that direction.’ He wasn’t doing that, you understand. Neither would he make it big issue of the throw-in that led to the goal. Nor the industrial Andy Robertson challenge on Tangana. ‘Compared with [Heung-Min] Son against Chelsea [which was a red card]? You have the answer,’ said Mourinho. He wasn’t talking about these injustices and his ill fortune. They were just left hanging.
Mourinho has overseen only two victories in his 11 meetings with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp
Roberto Firmino scored the decisive goal in the first half as Liverpool dominated against Spurs
Leaders Liverpool have now suffered a solitary loss in their last 17 encounters with Tottenham
One of Mourinho’s finest moment came in unpicking Guardiola’s great Barcelona side with Inter in a Champions League semi-final in 2010. He outwitted Guardiola, the coming threat to his self-declared specialness, with a 3-1 win setting up a two-legged victory and cemented his legend with a win in the Champions League final. Mourinho’s format against the great sides has been broadly the same ever since: the obsession with shape, preferably with an extra defender; quick attacking players to chase the early ball over the top to disrupt; and a particular fondness for a diagonal long ball.
You could tell when Tottenham moved even a degree out of the pre-designated Mourinho shape, as their manager exploded into life on the touchline, half crouching, applauding manically and cajoling his players back into line. Other times, Liverpool would be enjoying possession and Tottenham appeared under threat, but Mourinho stood quite relaxed, hands in pocket of designer coat. The body language was clear. Gegenpress all you like: you’re not getting through that.
It is a game plan that served him well in 2010. But it’s 2020. You could make an argument that it was the right thing to do against Liverpool with the injuries he has. ‘We are speaking about probably the best team in the world in the maximum of its potential…and us with the difficulties that we have,’ he said. But it’s not a game plan for the future. Pochettino was a manager in Klopp’s mould, made for twenties rather than the previous decade. A coach on the front foot, relentless in the offensive press. Tottenham fans may have been proud of their players here. Whether they can be, playing like that long term, is a moot point. Whether players such as Kane, Heung-Min Son and Dele will be content to scurry after scraps is equally questionable.
Mourinho was blazing a trail across Europe when he lifted the Champions League with Porto
Klopp was working in the German second division then but has now surpassed rival Mourinho
For now, Mourinho has mitigating circumstances. ‘Liverpool have worked with this coach for five years,’ he said. It’s four years and three months actually, but we’ll let that pass. ‘The players are totally adapted physically to the football he wants to play.’ He means they are fit enough to do it and his players aren’t.
To be fair to Mourinho, there was a plausible Plan B. The changes on 69 minutes brought fresh verve. With Erik Lamela and Giovani Lo Celso asked to attack, they seized the initiative. ‘If we try to play the way we did in the last 20 minutes from the beginning of the game, I think we would collapse because the players are not used to playing with this style and are not adapted to it.’ Maybe not this season. In the past though, under Pochettino, they were as intense as anyone.
Still, in those last 20 minutes they almost took points off Liverpool. There was the opportunity on 75 minutes when Moura played in Son for a glorious chance to equalise but he lifted his shot over the bar. Mourinho turned away, stalking towards the bench, to hide the disappointment from his players.
Then there was the Lo Celso moment, when Serge Aurier crossed on 83 minutes and the Argentine slid in, clear of the back four, stuck out a leg and from three yards out could only direct the ball wide. The stadium roared and then sighed, the din swelling around the magnificent edifice.
Mourinho sunk to his knees, arms outstretched and then the grimace became an impish grin. This might have been too formidable an opponent. He may be in Klopp’s slipstream for the foreseeable future. Maybe forever. But he clearly feels he isn’t quite done yet.