Eric Dier became the first Tottenham Hotspur player to discover Jose Mourinho’s ruthless streak as the Portuguese manager’s decision to haul off the midfielder after half an hour ultimately proved a masterstroke in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over Olympiakos.
Mourinho’s first home game in charge after replacing Mauricio Pochettino was turning ugly as the Greek side led 2-0 inside 20 minutes of the Champions League Group B game.
But two-time UCL winner Mourinho acted decisively, sacrificing Dier’s defensive shield, and sent on Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen who, just as on Saturday in Mourinho’s debut win over West Ham United, had been left on the bench.
It took a while for the tactical switch to work but Dele Alli levelled on the stroke of half-time and the second half saw Tottenham run riot with Harry Kane scoring twice either side of a thumping effort by Serge Aurier.
Tottenham, Champions League runners-up in June under Pochettino, have qualified for the last 16 and in Mourinho’s first two games in charge they have scored seven goals and conceded four, perhaps confounding those who said he would bring boring football to north London.
While the Dier-for-Eriksen swap worked a treat, Mourinho said it had been the hardest part of his evening.
“The most difficult moment for me was not the goals but the change I had to make,” the 56-year-old, whose tactical acumen has earned him silverware at every club he has managed, told reporters after postmatch.
“It hurt the player but also hurt me. It was not easy for the player or me.
“But it’s important the player understood and I was fortunate that it was a very intelligent boy who understood it was about the team not the performance. I apologised to Eric and made it clear I didn’t do it to hurt him.
“Christian gave us what we needed at that time.”