The Ivory Coast international looks to have a new lease on life since the Special One turned up in North London
Two things seemed very obvious upon the appointment of Jose Mourinho by Tottenham Hotspur, but only in hindsight in the case of the latter.
The first was that there would be some kind of new manager bounce. That wasn’t hard to predict: Spurs had been underperforming to such a frankly unfathomable degree since the turn of the year that there really was nowhere to go but up. As it happens, the formerly Special One has engineered two rather chaotic wins from two, a very good start all things considered.
The second was that, of all the players in the squad, Serge Aurier would be the biggest beneficiary (Dele Alli is the other player who has a shout in this regard) of the arrival of the Portuguese manager.
A goal and two assists have signposted the Ivorian’s resurgence, and the confidence with which he spanked in his finish in the Champions League against Olympiacos showed a man who is suddenly brimming with belief.
BT Sport pundit Rio Ferdinand was full of admiration for the rapid upturn in performances, and credited both Mourinho and the player himself.
“When a new manager comes in there’s sometimes one player who benefits, at the moment it’s him,” the former England defender began. “He is someone we were talking about as a car crash but he’s stepped up.”
But then, isn’t this what Mourinho does?
For all that he polarizes opinion, the 56-year-old does have a history as a player-whisperer, capable of grasping the psychology of the previously discarded and the disenfranchised.
Aurier’s peculiar position – he seemed to be in favour only due to the combination of poor squad planning and injury – in the squad meant he was prime for an intervention, and it would appear that Mourinho has tapped into something within him.
It also helps that the set-up of the side in the past two games has been geared toward placing Aurier in positions where he can be most effective. The more conservative positioning of the nominal left-back allows the Ivorian, on the opposite flank, to play almost as a part of the attacking band of five, and it is from this advanced zone he has seemed reborn.
“He’s allowed to get himself really high up the pitch,” said former England manager Glenn Hoddle following his Champions League goal.
There is a caveat though, a test that Aurier still has to pass. His performances have assumed a stop-start quality for a while now – two good showings swiftly followed by one bad, never able to get any real momentum going.
As such, two on the bounce is perhaps not so definitive as to cry “Uhuru!”, even though it must be said that the portents are good. His current role just seems to suit him better on a conceptual level, and his raw physicality and impetuousness suits Mourinho’s preference for individual spontaneity in attack.
The Spurs manager is of course famously of two very different schools – Van Gaalian and Robsonian – and in the attacking phase he prefers the more free-form expressionism that the Englishman championed.
A similar blockbuster right-back has also in the past stepped up to be the driving force for his team’s play; Brazilian Maicon was irrepressible for Inter in that historic 2009/10 season, and Aurier can certainly become influential in the same manner, even if not to the same degree.
What that would mean is difficult to say, simply because it is difficult to place a cap on the 26-year-old: for instance, in 2018, he somewhat unexpectedly made the shortlist for the CAF African Player of the Year award; this year, he has been nowhere near. It is a quirk of awards such as these, but also indicative of the flux in his levels from one year to the next.
It is also not clear that he remains at Tottenham at all, even with his form looking up. His cryptic Instagram story post following the comeback against Olympiacos has stirred the water, and in some quarters it is being read as an allusion to a move in January.
It must be remembered that Aurier has not had the best time in North London, and his celebration on Tuesday – sticking his index fingers in his ears as though to block out the noise – was at least partly an indication he is aware how fleeting the adulation can be.
Whatever statement he might have been trying to make has now sadly been overshadowed by the allegation he spat in the direction of the Spurs faithful as part of that celebration, an interpretation of the event that he has had to very publicly deny.
He could just as easily be out the door as go on to conclusively leave his struggles behind. There will reportedly be no investment in the squad in January; if he sticks around, he will have ample opportunity to begin to rewrite the story of his time at Tottenham.