Given both managers’ history, Nigel Pearson versus Jose Mourinho has the potential for some interesting touchline action in resurgent Watford’s game against Tottenham at Vicarage Road on Saturday.
Spurs boss Mourinho recently marched across to the opposition bench at Southampton, appeared to take a nosy peek at one of the opposition coach’s match notes and later called him an “idiot” in a press conference.
Pearson, meanwhile, once had an infamous pitch-side grappling match with Crystal Palace player James McArthur while in charge of Leicester City in 2015, appearing to grab him by the neck.
Managers losing it by the dug-out is not exactly an irregular occurrence in top-level football although these are two of the more noteworthy and unusual occurrences of recent times.
These particular incidents do set the scene, though, for what some might wish to see as an intriguing clash of styles and manner between the two if it is looked at in caricature, black-and-white comic book terms – which is how football is often framed.
Mourinho is the smooth-talking, broodingly handsome Portuguese Peacock Prince, who actually called himself “a Special One” when he first arrived in England at Chelsea in 2004 rather than “the Special One.”
The second version of the tag stuck, however. And he had just won the first of his two Champions League titles with Porto, so he had a point.
Pearson will be cast as the polar opposite – the six feet one inch, bluff, ramrod-straight former Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday defender who has been in charge at clubs like Carlisle, Hull City, WBA and Derby County while Mourinho has been parading around at places like Real Madrid, Manchester United, Inter Milan and Stamford Bridge.
Neither image does full justice to either man.
But just now, it is Pearson who is doing something more special with the Hornets than Mourinho is managing at Tottenham, and he actually does have some experience abroad after a 17-month spell in command at OH Leuven in Belgium between 2017 and 2019.
Last weekend’s 3-0 defeat of Bournemouth made it 13 points from the last possible 15 since Pearson became Watford’s third manager of the season with the team rock bottom of the Premier League table.
They are now out of the relegation zone, having beaten Manchester United, Wolves and drop-zone rivals Aston Villa as well as earning a tough draw away at Sheffield United.
Only Liverpool and Manchester City have collected more points than Watford since Pearson was appointed.
After being favourites for the drop when Pearson took over in mid-December with the side six points adrift, Watford are now behind Norwich, Aston Villa and crisis-hit Bournemouth in the analysts’ assessment of the relegation battle.
Latest Relegation Odds
Pearson’s side are now priced at 11/4 to go down with Bet365 and Ladbrokes and 7/2 with Coral.
This compares with Norwich’s 1/16 price with Betfair and Bet365, Villa’s 4/5 with William Hill and Betvictor and Bournemouth’s 4/5 with William Hill and Ladbrokes.
Pearson’s only defeat came in his first match after he replaced Quique Sanchez Flores – against league leaders Liverpool.
His success is said to have come with an instant re-building of discipline within the club and the re-discovery of a sense of identity and purpose which has come with it.
The club of managers beaten by Liverpool this season is hardly an exclusive one. It was more or less a given that Pearson wouldn’t win that first fixture. And Mourinho has just joined the same club after Spurs were beaten 1-0 by Jurgen Klopp’s side in north London last weekend.
That was an outcome which many saw as a given, too, after the way things have quickly taken a difficult turn for Mourinho following his replacement of Mauricio Pochettino in November.
It was his team’s third defeat in four league games with them also having succumbed at Chelsea and Southampton and been held at bottom club Norwich City.
Spurs’ Dwindling League Form
The last league win was against Brighton on Boxing Day – although they narrowly beat Middlesbrough on Tuesday in a third-round replay in the FA Cup, the competition which clearly gives Mourinho his best chance of landing some silverware this season.
The team have also lost talismanic striker and leader Harry Kane through injury at least until April.
It all began so well for the new coach – with Spurs winning four of his first five matches while scoring 16 times in the process.
The defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League which followed was an inconsequential dead rubber.
A decent win at Wolves followed on December 15 but things started to turn wobbly with the defeat at Chelsea the following weekend.
😕 Mourinho hasn't had the dominant start Spurs fans were hoping for— Bookmakers.co.uk (@bookmakers) January 16, 2020
🏆 But a former Spurs player believes the season can be saved with FA Cup success
👉 Read more: https://t.co/qgJ2GaKTbj#thfc#coys#facuppic.twitter.com/DUplhEE4FK
It has very quickly prompted suggestions that Mourinho has begun to adopt the sour mood which characterised much of his time at Old Trafford.
Some critics were quick to claim that he appeared to attempt to tactically contain Liverpool rather than try to beat them. This, they surmised, was a reversion to type with the absence of Kane a handy excuse for this approach.
Yet this is a Spurs side which has conceded 21 goals in 14 matches under Mourinho so far which hardly fits his parsimonious image and demands work rapidly.
The recent run of poor form mirrors the slump which occurred under Pochettino which followed Spurs’ advance to the Champions League final last June.
It is a reminder that the new coach has a long-term job at hand now that the “bounce” which often follows the appointment of a new boss has run its course.
It’s also why the FA Cup clearly should be Mourinho’s primary target this season.
Latest FA Cup Outright Odds
Spurs are third favourites behind Liverpool and Manchester City with a fourth-round tie at Southampton looming on January 25.
At Ladbrokes and Unibet, Spurs are 8/1 to lift the trophy they last won in 1991. At Betfair and Paddy Power, it is 9/1.
In eighth place and with 31 points, Tottenham trail leaders Liverpool by a whopping 31 points. Enough said.
In the Champions League, in which Tottenham meet Red Bull Leipzig in the last 16, they are eighth favourites across the board.
It would, in fact, be a massive achievement if Mourinho were to win at Wembley in May given the fact that the old adage that Spurs are “a great cup side,” no longer applies.
They haven’t won anything at all since the League Cup success of 2008.
Their one-time romance with the FA Cup has withered, too. In nearly three decades since they last won it, their great rivals Arsenal have lifted the famous old pot no fewer than eight times.
If Mourinho re-kindled that love affair, he would achieve what 22 different bosses – including stand-ins and partnerships – have failed to do since Terry Venables’ FA Cup success.
He would land a prize Tottenham have won eight times in all – and six times in the three decades between 1961 and 1991.
It would also burnish again his reputation for winning silverware everywhere he goes, no matter how much his tactics are criticised or how much controversy he stirs up.
First, though, on Saturday, comes the rather imposing obstacle of Nigel Pearson, a man who is currently doing his own bit to polish up the standing of English coaches in their own nation’s game.
If he keeps Watford up – as now looks likely – there will be a particularly apt word for the achievement; Special.