More important, Mourinho’s relationship with his squad was curdling. He had retained the support of many of Tottenham’s red-letter players over recent months — most notably Harry Kane — even as he cycled through many of the well-worn tropes of his late-stage career: the intensely personal criticisms of specific players; the seemingly arbitrary ostracisms; the consistent assessment that triumphs were his and disappointments theirs.
In the last few weeks, those final few threads started to give way. After being held to a tie by relegation-haunted Newcastle last week, he was asked why this team could no longer hold on to a lead, as his great sides once did. “Same coach, different players,” he said. Doubts had started to surface about Kane’s future. Even the Korean striker Son Heung-min, affable and adored, seemed unsettled.
The timing might have been unhelpful, but Levy knew he had to act. Few will expect Mason — forced to retire as a player after sustaining a head injury and now building a coaching career — to be given the job full-time, regardless of whether he can record an unlikely victory on Sunday over Pep Guardiola, the other top coach Levy had cryptically mentioned upon hiring Mourinho.
Spurs are likely to target a young, more adventurous manager — the sort the club had in Mauricio Pochettino before he was jettisoned — in the mold of Julian Nagelsmann of RB Leipzig or Leicester City’s Brendan Rodgers.
The future, for Mourinho, is much less certain. It was coincidental, of course, that he should be removed from his post as European soccer tries to come to terms with the future that the owners of 12 of its most illustrious names have mapped out on its behalf, but it was notable how little his ouster altered the course of conversation.
In part, that is because Mourinho’s departure has been brewing. In part, that is because Mourinho is fired, now, with such regularity that it is possible to break the stages of his reign down into distinct parts: the promise of change, the early successes, the infighting, the self-protection, the downward spiral, the dismissal.
But most of all, it is because Mourinho no longer feels like the sort of manager any of the putative members of the new Super League would appoint. He was the closest thing soccer had to a guarantee of trophies. He is not, emphatically, any more.