LONDON – After touting his humility and willingness to learn from past mistakes, Jose Mourinho couldn’t resist a flash of the old familiar cheekiness.
Even after opening his first comments as Tottenham manager by praising his predecessor Mauricio Pochettino, Mourinho couldn’t resist a one-liner that reminded everyone — however unintentionally — that Tottenham had replaced a coach who never landed a title with a serial trophy winner.
It came when he was asked how much of Spurs’ current struggles in the Premier League was a result of the disappointment of the Champions League loss to Liverpool in the final in June?
“I don't know,” Mourinho flashed back, “because I never lost a Champions League final.”
He has, however, won two of them. With Inter Milan in 2010 and Porto in 2004 — the signature success that set Mourinho on the path to managerial superstardom, sprinkled with a heavy dose of feuds and divisive bravado.
It’s 15 years since Mourinho first arrived in England at Chelsea, calling himself a “Special One” in a swaggering introduction.
The message Mourinho tried to portray at his Tottenham presentation on Thursday was that he is meeker now.
“I'm humble enough to try to analyze what I did in my career,” Mourinho said. “The evolution, the problems, the solutions.
“The principle of the analysis was not to blame anyone else.”
Asked if he was no longer as brash, Mourinho responded: “I was always humble but you didn’t understand that.”
This was a more introspective Mourinho, reprising the charm seen at Chelsea (twice), Real Madrid and Manchester United before he grew irritated with the club and too often his own players.
“I'm stronger,” Mourinho said. “When I say I’m stronger … from the emotional point of view. I’m relaxed. I’m motivated. I’m ready. I think the players felt that in two days.”
By the time he was fired by Manchester United in December 2018, it became clear Mourinho’s relationship with the players had fractured.
Being out of work gave Mourinho time to contemplate on his own style.
“You never lose your DNA. You never lose your identity,” he said. “I had time to think about many things. Don’t ask me what are the mistakes. But I realize during my career I made mistakes but I won’t make the same mistakes. I'm going to make new mistakes.”
It is the first time Mourinho has been hired by a team in mid-season since 2002 when he was hired by Porto.
Mourinho’s first game is a London derby at West Ham on Saturday, with Tottenham 11 points from the four Champions League places.
What Mourinho won’t get necessarily at Tottenham is the type of lavish spending he enjoyed at Chelsea and Madrid.
“I don't need (new) players, I'm so happy with the players I have,” Mourinho said. “I just need time to understand them better, to know everything about them because I always say you only know a player when you work with them.
“Of course, how many times I watched these guys, how many times I played (managed) against them. I know them well but you never know them well enough until you work with them. And my gift is this squad, the squad is very, very good.”
Just one that has never won titles. The club’s last trophy came through the 2008 League Cup and the championship hasn’t been won since 1961.
“We can’t win the Premier League this season,” Mourinho said. “We can ... next season.”