It seems like a different era now but it was only 11 months back when Tottenham sacked manager Mauricio Pochettino and replaced him with Jose Mourinho. The North London club had reached the Champions League final, which they lost to Liverpool, less than half a year prior to that. However, a tumultuous start to the new season saw Spurs pull the plug on the Argentine’s five-and-a-half-year reign at the club.
Speaking to a group of journalists during a video interaction on Amazon Prime Video’s documentary series on the club, titled ‘All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur’, Spurs’ Argentine star Erik Lamela said the 24-hour period within which the managerial change was made had left the players surprised.
“When he left the club after five years, it was a surprise for us because we didn’t expect that. It was difficult for the players. We were talking between us and we couldn’t believe it. There are a lot of great memories working together with him, which is shared by everyone in the team,” Lamela, 28, said of his compatriot.
“We knew each other well, so it was difficult as I said. But the day after, we didn’t have time to think about it. The day after, everyone was ready to start a new era and change the mentality as a team and try to win the next game. Football is always like that. We didn’t have much time to think about it; we needed to win the next game.”
The Argentine winger said high expectations may have affected Spurs during the poor start to last season. “It’s very difficult to reach the Champions League final. When you do, the expectations are high after that. And that is what happened with us; the season after, everyone expected us to be on top form again. But that season was difficult for us from the beginning – a lot of injuries, a lot of players missing and we didn’t have luck in many games too, with VAR or other things,” he said.
Being part of the documentary was an unusual experience for the players at the club and Lamela said it felt unusual with the cameras around. “At the beginning it was strange because we were not used to cameras recording us all the time. But after a while, in the middle of the season, it felt normal. We forgot about the cameras,” he explained.
Lamela also described Mourinho’s arrival at the club the day after Pochettino’s arrival as ‘strange’ but added that the Portuguese manager has come across as ‘a very nice person, always very honest with the players’. “He is a big manager. Everyone knows him. That moment (when he joined) was very strange for us because we didn’t know much about the situation at the club. As professionals, we were all pushing in the same way. At that moment, the team wasn’t doing great and everyone was just trying to change that,” Lamela said.
Asked about his thoughts on Mourinho’s speech in the documentary where he calls upon his players to be ‘bastards’ on the pitch for 90 minutes, Lamela replied: “Whenever a manager says something, then I think it’s because it’s a point of view that the players maybe do not have. I think for the team, sometimes there are times where we need to finish off games but we don’t do. We need to be clever in different aspects – keeping the ball, winning a foul and many different situations. And that was what he was talking about.”
Spurs haven’t won a trophy since their League Cup victory in 2008 but Lamela said the club now has a squad strong enough to compete for major honours. Tottenham signed midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, full-back Sergio Reguilon and back-up goalkeeper Joe Hart this summer while Gareth Bale returned on a season-long loan from Real Madrid.
“We have a very good team now. The squad is big, a lot of players in every position. The competition for places is higher, and that’s good because there are a lot of games coming in all the competitions. And this is what we want – to try to really win something this season, but we need to go game by game, month by month. There will be many games every week, every month for us, so we have to be calm and just try to win the next game,” he said.