Jose Mourinho apologised to the Tottenham fans and said his players failed “at the basics of life” after they threw away a 2-0 lead to be knocked out of the Europa League by Dinamo Zagreb.
A second-leg display described as “diabolical” and “a disaster” by their ex-player and manager Glenn Hoddle saw Spurs eliminated in the last 16 in Croatia after extra time.
A hat-trick from Mislav Orsic did the damage, reversing the comfortable lead Mourinho’s side had built in last week’s first leg.
“They [Dinamo] left sweat, energy, blood. In the end they left even tears of happiness,” Mourinho told BT Sport. “They were very humble and committed. I have to praise them.
“On the other side, my team – I repeat, my team – didn’t look like it was playing an important match. If for any one of them it is not important, for me it is.
“I am disappointed for a difference of attitude of one team to another. I feel sorry that my team is the team that didn’t bring to the game not just the basics of football but the basics of life, which is to respect our jobs and to give everything.
“I can only apologise to the Tottenham supporters. I hope they feel the same way I feel. Today is live or die – and in this moment, we die.”
Resting on their 2-0 first-leg lead, Tottenham looked relatively comfortable for just over an hour in Zagreb, until Orsic’s first goal began to swing the tie away from them.
He levelled the tie with eight minutes of normal time left and then won it for his side early in the second period of extra time.
Tottenham forced two good saves from home goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic late in the game but it was too little, too late.
“For the respect I have for my career and my job, every match is important,” Mourinho said. “For every Tottenham fan at home, every match matters. Another attitude is needed. What I feel is much more than sadness.
“I just left the Dinamo dressing room where I went to praise the guys and I feel sorry it is not my team who won the game based on attitude and compromise. I feel more than sad.
“Football is not just about players who think they have more quality than others. The basis of football is attitude. They beat us on that.
“I told the players the risk of playing the way we were. It happened because I believe the players only realised it was at risk when they scored the second.”
‘They lost the plot and also lost their heart’
Former Tottenham player and manager Glenn Hoddle, working on the match as a pundit for BT Sport, was brutal in his assessment.
“Mentally, they have got it wrong right through the game,” he said. “I said beforehand that if Zagreb scored I was expecting a reaction. That was Spurs’ chance to respond but they went backwards.
“They went downhill instead of fighting. They should have upped the gears but they didn’t.
“There is not enough quality in the team. Everyone was looking at each other. When that happens, it is a disaster for a team.
“There was no-one on the night who said they were going to take responsibility and change the game. You need leadership but they were just looking at each other.
“They missed [midfielder Pierre-Emile] Hojbjerg big time – he is the one who is always demanding things. You need someone out there who is going to dig someone out.
“I only saw Eric Dier get annoyed, screaming at a few people late on. There was no leadership, no heart pumping through that team.
“They lost the plot but they also lost their heart.”
Their former striker Peter Crouch, sitting alongside Hoddle, was no less critical.
“They haven’t turned up in two games now,” he said, also referring to Sunday’s Premier League defeat by Arsenal.
“You talk about seeing a reaction when you go a goal down but we saw players hiding. Simple passes not being made, no creativity.
“The keeper made some good saves but Zagreb were the better side and deserved to go through. You wonder where Spurs’ season is going now.”
‘The season is hanging by a thread’
So where is Tottenham’s season going?
They are still in the race to secure a top-four Premier League finish and qualify for next season’s Champions League, but with a six-point gap between themselves in eighth and fourth-placed Chelsea, they can afford few further mistakes.
They also have the Carabao Cup final to come in April but will start as outsiders to Pep Guardiola’s in-form league leaders Manchester City.
“The club are at a crossroads this season,” said Hoddle. “Yes they could beat Manchester City in the League Cup final but you just can’t switch it on at Wembley in a cup final. It would save the season but if they don’t, where is this season going to end up?
“Jose has been brought in to win silverware. If he wins it, then that could be a stepping stone. They’re absolutely miles away from that but you have to be optimistic.”
Crouch was also concerned about the long-term direction of the club and their ability to retain their best players – most notably captain and top scorer Harry Kane.
“Their season is hanging by a thread,” he said. “When I see Harry Kane trudging off, he shouldn’t even be playing in this competition.
“That’s the worrying thing: Where’s his head at – players who deserve to be at a higher level than the Europa League? Games like this certainly don’t help.
“It was an honest interview [from Mourinho] and there was no dressing things up. He questioned players’ attitudes.
“Players went into that and thought they’d coast it. I don’t think they can fix things this season. On the form in the past two games, they’re miles off the top four, so where does that leave them?
“It’s not a successful season.”