Toby Alderweireld says Tottenham’s players felt ‘sad’ and ‘hurt‘ to see Jose Mourinho and his coaching staff leave the club – but has praised the impact Ryan Mason has made and insists they are fully focused on seizing their shot at Wembley glory this weekend.
In an exclusive interview with talkSPORT’s Sam Matterface, the Belgian defender conceded it had been a difficult week for everyone at the north London club following the sacking of Mourinho and insisted the players felt responsible for his 17-month reign coming to an end.
Mourinho was axed along with majority of his backroom team on Monday, with former midfielder Mason placed in interim charge until the end of the season and trusted with leading the team for Sunday’s League Cup final against Manchester City.
“It’s been a difficult week because you work with a manager for a year-and-a-half and suddenly he’s not there any more – I think everyone feels very sad about it,” admitted Alderweireld.
“You’re together. Not just the manager, the training staff in general. There are a lot of people you work with on a daily basis. You want to be better together. And then suddenly you’re surprised that he was not there any more. So, of course, that’s very sad.
“But then as a professional you have to be ready to play the game against Southampton. That’s what we did. We tried to focus on the next game. And the best way to get over things is by winning games.”
Mourinho came under-fire for his brand of football and early exits in the Europa League and FA Cup, while he left with Spurs sitting seventh in the Premier League and facing an uphill struggle to secure Champions League qualification.
Alderweireld wasn’t always a regular under the Portuguese – with his absence in recent months raising plenty of eyebrows – but he maintains he had nothing but respect for Mourinho.
“Again, in the first moment it [the sacking] hurts you. You never want to see a manager leave,” he added.
“We don’t feel like, ‘oh, it’s all because of the manager’. We’re in this together, so we feel responsible 100 per cent. People want to look for the problems, but it didn’t feel like that.
“You’re in it together and you try to do the best you can together. Unfortunately we didn’t get the result we both wanted as a manager and as a team, but I have massive respect.
“It hurts when you have to see your manager go.”
Mason is now the man in the hotseat.
At 29, he became the youngest manager in Premier League history when he steered Spurs to a 2-1 victory over Southampton on Wednesday night.
Alderweireld, like many other Tottenham stars, played alongside Mason during his time as a player in north London.
Asked how it has been playing under a manager three years his junior, Alderweireld replied: “Surprisingly very good.
“Of course we played together. We know each other. But he has a very good maturity – how he brings stuff over to the team, his idea of how he wants to play football, his tactical views.
“The time has changed where it’s only one guy who decides everything. We all talk about football, everyone sees football in a different way and of course, they will talk about how we want to play, how we feel comfortable.
“But he has one mindset in how he wants to play and he brings that to the team in an unbelievable way.”
Spurs face a tough task trying to topple Man City on Sunday and end their 13-year trophy drought in front of 8,000 fans at Wembley.
It will be even tougher if captain and talisman Harry Kane doesn’t win his fight to be fit having suffered an ankle injury against Everton last week.
“Everyone hopes he is going to be fit. He wants to be fit. We have to see day by day,” Alderweireld said.
“He is an unbelievable player, I can’t credit him enough, but we have managed in difficult periods without him as well to win games.
“If he is not there Sunday, we have to find a way. Of course we want him to be there, but if not we have to find a way.”
Man City have won the League Cup for the last three seasons and have been far and away the best team in Premier League this season.
So, can Tottenham really beat them?
“We know we are going to play a big opponent, a very good team, but we have to have confidence in ourselves,” said Alderweireld.
“They are an unbelievable team. We don’t only have to stop them but beat them so we have to look to ourselves.
“They are such a good team. They don’t have one style of play. Their threat is from everywhere. We can’t only think about stopping them. We have to have confidence in our game.
“We have very good players ourselves. We have to have a way to beat them, not only stop them.”