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‘Football isn't just philosophy, it’s strategy’: Mourinho goes in on Ajax after Spurs comeback

Jose Mourinho says Ajax’s failure to compromise their fabled philosophy ended up costing them dearly as they were on the wrong end of a shock Champions League semi-final comeback against Tottenham.

The Dutch side have thrilled Europe this season with some majestic performances in reaching the Champions League final four, playing a fearless, free-flowing brand of football that recalled the glory days of Johan Cruyff in the '70s and the famous team of the mid-90s that also claimed Europe’s biggest club prize.

On Wednesday night, manager Erik ten Hag and his team appeared on course for a first Champions League final in 23 years as they cruised into a 3-0 aggregate lead against Tottenham with just one half of football left in the tie.

But it all came spectacularly undone as Spurs mounted an incredible second-half comeback, capped off when Lucas Moura completed his hat-trick in the sixth minute of injury time to send his team into the final on away goals.       

Also on rt.com Spurs beat Ajax in incredible Champions League fight-back to book final spot

Speaking to RT, Portuguese managerial great Mourinho had previously said that to overcome Ajax, teams needed to “give them what they don’t want” – referencing how he had masterminded their defeat as Manchester United boss in the Europa League final two seasons ago.

And Mourinho saw parallels with that on Wednesday night, when Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino introduced big Spanish forward Fernando Llorente at half time for a more direct approach in a desperate bid to rescue the game.

“I remember clearly that I told you, to Ajax, you must give them what they don’t want,” Mourinho told RT on his show ‘On the Touchline with Jose Mourinho’.

“Tottenham did it in the second half. Long ball to Llorente, Llorente is flicking, holding with his chest, waiting for support.

“The last goal is long ball, Llorente, second ball, Dele Alli assist, Lucas goal.  

“Ajax wants to press high, they cannot because the ball is not there.”

Mourinho joked that Spurs midfielders Christian Eriksen and Moussa Sissoko must have “needed neck massages after the game” as they spent so much time watching the ball sail over their heads.

“The ball was going from [Toby] Alderweireld, [Jan] Vertonghen, to Llorente and then Dele Alli, Lucas, all the ones surrounding the second ball, Ajax couldn’t cope.”

Mourinho said that despite the more route-one approach being counter to Spurs’ principles under Pochettino, it was essential for them to get back into the game.

In contrast, he made a scathing assessment of Ajax’s failure to compromise their possession-focused passing game, despite the tie slipping away from them.  

“I’m surprised that Ajax, they did nothing to try to cope with something that is difficult. They let the game go and go and always with the same profile of game.

“You can say football is cruel, it is, but one thing is when you collapse without trying not to collapse. They [Ajax] kept playing the same way.

“OK, [Hakim] Ziyech hit the post, if he scores, game over, we can go to all these details. 

“But by the strategic point of view, Tottenham forgot their basic philosophy and they went with the strategy to try to make the miracle happen.  

“And Ajax, from minute one until minute 95, they played only with their philosophy – and in football, it’s not possible.”

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For the Dutch side and manager Erik ten Hag it was an agonizing end to a fairytale campaign that few would have predicted.

A team bristling with young talent, led by 19-year-old skipper Matthijs de Ligt and with Barcelona bound wonderkid Frenkie de Jong in midfield, surpassed all expectations by reaching the semi-finals and dumping out Real Madrid and Juventus along the way.

Mourinho paid credit to the team, and also said manager ten Hag would learn from the bitter experience of Wednesday night.     

“Ajax, I want to give them one more time, huge credit for football they play, the quality they brought, the emotion they brought,” Mourinho said.  

“Phenomenal team with small investment, a great academy, incredible philosophy. But come on, if you want to win things, you also need the strategic side of the game.

“Ajax in the last two years, they lost the final against Manchester United in the Europa League, and losses a semi-final where they were winning 3-0, both for the same reason: a strategic point of view…

“They have to feel very proud of what they did, but it’s something they have to rethink if one day they want to win it really.

“I think ten Hag, untouchable the work he did… but I’m pretty sure now he understands that football is not just about philosophy, it’s about strategy,” he concluded, ever the pragmatist.   

You can get all of Mourinho's thoughts on this week's incredible Champions League drama in the full episode of 'On the Touchline with Jose Mourinho' here:

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