Never let it be said that José Mourinho hides his light under a bushel or runs from the pressure and significance of high-profile matches. The Tottenham manager goes hard in the opposite direction and at times like these, as he prepares for a pivotal semi-final – at home to Brentford in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night – it is easy to make out the trademark psychology.
Mourinho projects confidence, not least with references to his previous glories, and there have been more than a few of those in this competition alone. He is one of only three managers to have four League Cups to his name – three with Chelsea, one with Manchester United. The other two are Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson.
Mourinho embraces the stakes, which for him and Spurs include ending a 13-year trophy drought; he was hired in large part to put this right. He can smell the possibility – just two games to achieve a success that would validate his appointment in November 2018 – and he wants his players to take their cue from him. He wants them to be similarly bold, to impose themselves on the occasion. This is the mentality that he is trying to instill.
“Is this my biggest game since arriving at Spurs? Yes, I think so,” Mourinho said. “In the perspective of the club chasing silverware for many years, I would say so. Of course, we always have important matches. At the end of last season we had a match at Crystal Palace that would give us participation in this season’s Europa League or not.
“The match against Leeds on Saturday was very important as we went a few games without a victory in the Premier League. But I would say a semi-final is always a very important match. The only one more important is a final.”
Mourinho has never lost a final in this competition and nor has he lost a semi-final. He won it in his first season at Chelsea in 2004-05 and did the same in his first season at United in 2016-17. At both clubs, it was the launch pad to him claiming further silverware. This is his first shot at the trophy with Spurs, as they had already been knocked out of last season’s competition when he joined. The symmetry is a powerful plotline.
“Every competition is important,” Mourinho said. “That is my way of looking at things, especially at a club without silverware for more than one decade. After more than one decade, every competition becomes more important and if we win two matches, we win a trophy. Two difficult matches, of course, but if we win, we get a trophy which I think would be a very good thing for the club and for the players.
“It is not about me. It is not about me four or five times, or me winning at three clubs, it’s not about me at all. It is about my club, it is about the players who want trophies, it is about fans who want trophies. We need to look at this semi-final with this ambition, respecting a very, very good team who kicked a few very good Premier League teams out of the competition.”
Mourinho takes Spurs to non-league Marine in the FA Cup third round on Sunday and the expectation is that he will rotate his players for that tie. Against Brentford, he will be as strong as possible and he wants to build on the 3-0 win over Leeds. The result ended a run of four league games without a victory and Mourinho was pleased to see his players go for the jugular at 1-0 rather than sit back and look to protect the advantage.
“I promise you this is what we want,” Mourinho said. “It depends on tactical conditions but more important than that, it depends on mental and physical [conditions] and also the opponents. Against Leeds at 1-0, I felt the players really went for it.
“I saw Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Harry Winks pressing much higher [in midfield]. I saw Højbjerg arriving in shooting positions. I saw the wingers feeling confident to interact more with the striker. The players had a good feeling as we finished the game always comfortable.”