Sunday 8 December 2019

Revealed: The talks that led Jose Mourinho to choose Tottenham over Arsenal

Jose Mourinho said he had no contact over replacing Unai Emery but his advisers were aware of Arsenal's interest before became Tottenham manager (Martin Rickett/PA)
Jose Mourinho said he had no contact over replacing Unai Emery but his advisers were aware of Arsenal's interest before became Tottenham manager (Martin Rickett/PA)
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

As the sequence of events surrounding Unai Emery’s sacking from Arsenal last week were revealed, Jose Mourinho emerged as a central character in a complex narrative.

Amid a degree of chaos and acrimony at the top of the Arsenal chain of command that has been rumbling on for more than a month, Head of Football Raul Sanllehi and managing director Vinai Venkatesham flew to America last Monday to meet with the club’s owners to try and resolve Emery’s future.

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Owner Stan Kroenke and his son Josh are said to have been reluctant to dispense with Emery’s services, as they were keen to avoid an expensive pay-off for a Spanish coach who appeared to lose the support of his players and the club’s fans long ago.

Yet after Thursday’s night’s 2-1 Europa League defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt was played out amid an eerie atmosphere at a sparsely populated Emirates Stadium, Arsenal chiefs were left with no option other than to inform Emery that his time was up at the club’s London Colney training base on Friday morning.

It is understood that the moves to replace Emery began up to a month ago, with senior figures urging the Kroenke family to hire Mourinho after talks with his advisers confirmed that the former Chelsea and Manchester United manager was interested in joining Arsenal.

Unai Emery paid tribute to the club’s fans following his sacking (Martin Rickett/PA)

The Kroenke family had reservations about recruiting a lavishly-paid manager who took great delight in casting himself as Arsenal’s biggest troll during Arsene Wenger’s reign as the club’s manager, but Sanllehi was among those keen to hire Mourinho.

Noting Mourinho’s detailed analysis of how he would get the best out of Arsenal’s attacking trio of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe in his role as a Sky Sports pundit following the 2-2 draw against Tottenham in September, Sanllehi suggested it was a vision could help to transform Arsenal’s fortunes in double-quick time.

After Arsenal headed into the international break on the back of a 2-0 defeat against Leicester that severely dented their hopes of pushing for a top-four finish in the Premier League, the prospect of hiring Mourinho was raised once again and that appears to have sparked a reaction from their north London neighbours Tottenham.

As football's whispering chamber began to leak the news that Mourinho was positioning himself to replace Emery, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy made the decision to axe Mauricio Pochettino and appoint the manager he tried to lure to his club on two previous occasions in 2007 and 2013.

While Mourinho insisted he had not held talks with Arsenal before agreeing to take over as Tottenham boss, he side-stepped questions over whether his advisers had spoken to Gunners officials amid suggestions that some on the Arsenal board were reluctant to endorse his appointment.

Led by an owner who appears to have little interest in Arsenal or even the sport he has bought into, the club's management structure is set to be tested to the full as they prepare to make an appointment that may be even more significant than the decision to hire Emery as Wenger's replacement in the summer of 2018.

Back then, there was uncertainty at boardroom level over the identity of Wenger’s successor, with chief executive Ivan Gazidis and head of recruitment Sven Mislintat believed to have shared contrasting views on the identity of the next coach as former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta was close to being appointed.

Emery belatedly emerged as the candidate to fill the role and with both Gazidis and Mislintat now among the list of former employees at Arsenal. Sanllehi and Technical Director, former Arsenal midfielder Edu, are charged with finding the next Arsenal manager.

Former Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri, Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers, Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti, Wolves chief Nuno Espirito Santo, ex-Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira and sacked Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino are all being linked with the vacancy at the Emirates Stadium, but Arsenal insiders are now expressing frustration that the push to hire Mourinho came to nothing.

Mauricio Pochettino could be in line to fill the Arsenal hotseat left empty following the departure of Unai Emery yesterday. Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Rodgers or Santos would need plenty of convincing to leave stable Premier League jobs to work within this failing Arsenal regime and would experienced operators like Allegri or Ancelotti be the right fit for owners who have made it clear that their transfer budget is no longer that of a club with ambitions to finish in the top six of the Premier League?

In truth, it looks like the next Arsenal manager will be taking a gamble by accepting the keys of power to what used to be one of the biggest names in English football and that statement alone confirms how far this great club have fallen under owners and board members who lack a clarity in their vision that has undermined both Wenger and now Emery.

Arsenal’s fight back from ground zero will be long and painful and the danger must be that the decline that set in long before Wenger’s departure will not be arrested as long as the club is run by owners focusing on commercial rather than sporting success.


Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign as Arsenal manager came to an end in May 2018 and the confusion that has reigned since his exit has highlighted the lack of clarity in the direction of a club that has lost its way in alarming fashion.

Unai Emery’s sacking as Arsenal manager last Friday provided compelling evidence that those making the key calls at the top of the club had made another huge mistake when they appointed the Spaniard, with their delay in sacking him another serious blunder.

These are five of the big mistakes Arsenal have made since the club’s structure was changed in the summer of 2017, paving the way for Arsene Wenger’s exit a year later.

Mesut Ozil contract - After losing Alexis Sanchez on a free transfer to Manchester United in January 2018, Arsenal decided they could not allow another of their marquee names to leave for nothing and agreed to hand Germany international Ozil a £350,000-a-week contract to keep him at the club. It has proved to be a costly error, with the midfielder failing to make his mark at the club over the last 18 months.

Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal career is up in the air (Nick Potts/PA)

Unai Emery’s appointment - With senior Arsenal figures favouring a move to recruit former Gunners midfielder Mikel Arteta as Wenger’s successor, chief-executive Gazidis forced through a deal to recruit Emery instead. His sacking on Friday confirms that was the wrong move.

Defensive woes - Wenger’s final years at Arsenal were marred by his failure to address the club’s huge defensive problems and while Emery vowed to address those issues, his move to sign the accident-prone David Luiz last summer has backfired in predictable fashion. Their frailties at the back cost the latest Arsenal manager his job.

Aaron Ramsey’s exit - Arsenal had agreed a lucrative new contract with Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey before Gazidis left the club to join AC Milan, but that deal was taken off the table as the player left for Juventus on a free transfer last summer. It proved to be a mistake that left a hole in the Gunners midfield.

The Mourinho question - Many of the club’s fans would have had reservations about the appointment of a manager who has been vocal in his criticism of Wenger and his Arsenal team down the years, but he is a proven winner and was willing to take over as Gunners boss. If he brings success to their local rivals Spurs, the failure to land him will hurt even more.

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