Detractors claimed his authoritarian, siege mentality style was outdated and his star had faded. He was burnt out and belonged to a different era, they said.
His previous managerial stint hadn’t ended well, an increasingly bitter and confrontational Mourinho sacked by Manchester United. Even die-hard Spurs fans were generally non-plussed by the announcement that the self-anointed ‘Special One’ was to take charge of their club.
Fast forward 12 months, however, and Spurs sit atop the Premier League for the first time since August 2014. Excitement, optimism and pride have returned to the blue and white half of North London. Even whispers of a possible first title in 60 years are slowly starting to gather momentum.
Make no bones about it, Spurs have a quality playing squad with the likes of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Gareth Bale and an impressive supporting cast capable of turning and deciding a game in an instant. They flirted with success in recent years under the guidance of previous manager Maurizio Pochettino but never quite grasped the top prize.
That could, possibly, all change thanks to the wily Mourinho who has implemented his trademark style of setting a side up to absorb pressure and punish opponents on the counter. It is what saw him win multiple titles at the likes of Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
The 2-0 victory Spurs recorded against Manchester City last Saturday (Nov 21) perfectly demonstrated the clinical efficiency and tactical discipline that Mourinho teams are renowned for.
Pep Guardiola’s team had 66% of possession, won 10 corners and registered 22 shots on goal. Spurs didn’t manage a single corner and only attempted four shots at goal. Only two of these efforts were on target yet they were the vital statistics that won them the game. Job done.
Their efficiency in that regard is highly impressive. They scored in the 5th and 65th minutes, sitting back to soak up the pressure and nullify their opponents possession game for the remaining two-thirds of the contest. It was the epitome of a Mourinho masterclass.
It may not be the free-flowing, buccaneering football that pleases the eye but this is a results business and there are few that understand that better than the fiery Portuguese. Mourinho is a serial winner who has won all there is to win at club level across the top European leagues.
And that may be exactly what Spurs need.
He is clearly in a much happier place personally. While at United he was living in residence at the Lowry Hotel, away from his family. Whereas there are certainly worse places to be, anyone who has frequently undertaken business trips and endured the monotony of hotel living will empathise that it can become a very mundane and dispiriting existence very quickly.
He is now back in London, at home with his family, where he spent many successful years with Chelsea. His demeanour is much more palatable, it is clearly evident in the way he conducts himself in interviews, on the touch line and with his team.
Sure, he has had his moments – there was the recent incident of him sitting alone on the team bus after the Europa League defeat to Royal Antwerp when he took to Instagram to swipe at his lacklustre troops.
After further examination, however, this was a man striving to utilise modern communication methods to relay his disappointment to his team. It was largely a reserve team who Mourinho had hoped would sieze the opportunity to impress but hadn’t bothered to turn up. It was an afront for a man who demands such high standards.
The United experience stung Mounrinho’s ego immeasurably. A few months after his dismissal he started appearing as a pundit with several broadcasters, always more than happy to deliver thinly-veiled barbs at his previous employers, specifically at the structure and operational inefficiency of the hierarchy. He appeared bitter and angry. Had he fallen out of love with the game that had given him so much?
Let’s not forget, however, that despite his perceived ‘failure’ by many critics he did win two trophies at United - something Spurs fans have been craving for well over a decade. That’s what a serial winner does, even in times of adversity.
To analysye things further, it appears that post-United Mourinho took some time to step back and reflect, perhaps rethink his position in the game as the self-appointed ‘Special One’. New kids on the block like Guardiola, Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp were regularly taking the plaudits and maybe it was time for the old Jose to retreat and a new Jose to emerge.
They say the measure of a man is how he bounces back after a fall and for someone of such a stubborn nature to be able to adjust his persona in that manner deserves credit.
Don’t forget, Mourinho’s first role in professional football was working as a translator for Sir Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona where the two became very close. It would come as no surprise if the former protege decided to take inspiration from the man the game fondly referred to as ‘the Gentleman of football’.
“It feels good [to be top], but maybe tomorrow we are second again and honestly that would not be a problem for me, I am just happy with the evolution,” he told the BBC after the win against City.
“People cannot expect us to come here and after one season we are fighting for the title. We are not fighting for the title, we are just fighting to win every match. But we are going to lose matches, we are going to draw matches.
“Dinner tonight will be nice and relaxed and I will watch Atletico Madrid v Barcelona and sleep like an angel. But no problem if Leicester wins [on Sunday] and we are second again.”
These are not the sort of relaxed, humble and amiable comments one would have associated with the Jose of 18-24 months ago, let alone when he first appeared on the scene as a brash disruptor. Maybe, like a fine wine, he has just mellowed and matured with age.
Of course there is still a long way to go this season and Spurs face challenging fixtures against the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Leicester before Christmas. A run of bad form and injuries will no doubt kick in and have an impact. But they will go into those games and beyond full of confidence that they have the nous required to successfully mount a genuine title campaign.
After all, the man steering the ship has been there, done that. Only Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola have won the Premier League twice. Nobody has done it with two different clubs but the chance is certainly there for Mourinho.
Now wouldn’t that be the work of a ‘Special One’...