How Jose Mourinho Earned Harry Kane’s Trust And Provoked Dele Alli: It’s All In the Winning Body Language

Body language expert Adrianne Carter breaks down the silent signals between Tottenham’s manager and two of his key players

Harry Kane’s evolution from top Premier League striker to Ballon d’Or contender can be traced back to his early exchanges with new manager Jose Mourinho. The All Or Nothing cameras capture a public display of affection on the training pitch, then a one-on-one meeting in the manager’s office, where Mourinho, bristling with self-assurance, imitates an explosion with his hands, leans in, fist pumps and uses his profile to massage Kane’s ego. Tottenham’s captain nods, shrugs, gulps and rubs his nose. On the surface, this is a relatively ordinary exchange, but deciphering the body language, there’s a powerful bond being forged.

The interactions with the supremely talented but inconsistent Dele Alli tell a different story. Finger wagging, smirks, folded arms, chest slaps and other body cues suggest there’s trouble brewing between the pair. Under Mourinho’s tutelage, Kane has been transformed into a dynamic no.10, capable of defence-splitting passes and cool finishes. Alli, on the other hand, has been on the periphery. A year on from Mourinho’s appointment, with Tottenham leading the Premier League table, body language expert Adrianne Carter, decodes these two meetings and how they’ve impacted the two players’ current form.

Action: Jose puts his arm around Harry
What it means: You’re my main man
Decoded: This is a warm and friendly gesture and it appears very genuine. This, coupled with his choice of words, says, ‘Come on let’s do this, I’m looking after you.’ Harry leans into it as well, indicating he’s comfortable with this intimacy. That tells me there’s a lot of affection there, if not literally then mentally. They’re both willing to be close. Harry seemed a little bit uncomfortable that this was done in front of the team, but by doing this in such a public arena Jose is saying to the rest of the team, ‘I’m in with this person, we’re close, we’re together’ — it’s a message to the recipient and the players watching.

Action: Kane nods along
What it means: I’m in
Decoded: Kane nods throughout the chat. We do that when we agree with someone and to encourage them to keep talking. It’s a non-verbal communication sign of, ‘Yep I agree, I’m in, keep telling me more.’ This is the behaviour of someone who is keen to please.

Action: Harry rubs his nose
What it means: I’m feeling uncomfortable
Decoded: When Jose says, “I always think good relation with the previous manager, why not good relationship with me?”, Harry rubs his nose. Now, he could just have had an itch, but often when we start itching something on our face or on our head it’s a sign of discomfort — something is being said that we’re uncomfortable with. He might have felt he was being disloyal to Mauricio Pochettino. There’s a chance Harry is conscious he’s being filmed which also may have influenced his behaviour.

Action: Jose talks himself up, Harry shrugs his shoulders
What it means: Jose: I’m confident > Harry: I’m not convinced
Decoded: When Jose says, “My profile, I am little bit that [movie star of football] as a coach, the reality is that, my dimension is universal and by being with me I think I can help you to,” he wasn’t being cocky or arrogant, he was stating a fact. He said it so matter-of-factly, he just believes it. He’s a bit like Donald Trump — he believes everything he says, even when it’s really outlandish and it comes across with conviction which a lot of people buy into. Harry’s reaction to this is a one-sided shoulder shrug, which means, “I’m not sure.” He’s not entirely convinced Jose can do that. He does it a couple of times after that as well.

Action: Jose leans in, Harry gulps
What it means: Jose: Believe what I’m saying > Harry: The pressure is on
Decoded: When Jose says, “Yes, what I don’t accept because it’s my fucking nature, I don’t accept being here winning nothing, fucking hell I don’t. I feel that we can [win] because of you,” he leans forward, towards Harry. This is very deliberate. His body language is reinforcing his confidence and belief in Harry — he wants him to know he means what he says. He emphasises the word “you” — he really wants to hammer home this point. Harry swallows at this point, which can mean, ‘Wow, you’re putting a lot on me’.

Action: Jose shuns handshake in favour of a fist pump
What it means: Harry wants this relationship to work
Decoded: Harry goes to shake hands [pre-coronavirus] and Mourinho does a fist pump. Harry wouldn’t have felt rejected, but it definitely threw him off balance. Harry is showing an eagerness to develop a relationship and engage, but he does have some doubts in his mind.

Verdict: Jose seems a lot more confident throughout, whereas Harry isn’t able to relax as much, which might be a symptom of being on camera. Nodding along for the duration of the meeting is a good sign.

Action: Jose gets close to Dele, slaps his chest and points the finger
What it means: Buck your ideas up or they’ll be trouble
Decoded: By getting in Dele’s personal space, he’s trying to impose his authority. Slapping a person’s chest is not something you can do to anyone, so Jose obviously feels comfortable and confident enough to do this. It’s a sign of affection, but it’s also a reminder of who’s boss. When Jose says to Dele Alli, “You’re fucking lazy” and points his finger, he’s warning him. This is very typical of someone in power. He’s saying, ‘My words might be jokey, but I’m going to have you if you’re not careful. You are in trouble.” That finger-pointing is a telling off.

Action: Dele folds his arms and tilts his head
What it means: I’m not convinced
Decoded: Folding his arms can be decoded as a defensive gesture. Tilting his head is saying, ‘I’m sceptical, you’re not convincing me, I’m sitting here because I have to be here.’ Jose chooses his words very well when he leans in and says, “I like you as a player and I like you as a kid… I have no doubts about your potential, I saw you do incredible matches and incredible things” but “why you have in your career these little ups and downs… I don’t know if it has to be your lifestyle, if in one period you’re an amazing professional and if in another period you become a party boy.” He obviously does know something so he’s making a point by saying, ‘I’m not going to beat you up about it, but I know what you really get up to.’

Action: Dele smirks
What this means: I’m not convinced
Decoded: This is classified as contempt. It can mean, ‘I think I’m better than you’ or ‘I don’t have any respect for what you’re saying, you can’t tell me anything’ or ‘You can’t tell me what to do’. It creates a barrier and brings a coldness to the relationship. I say to HR managers, ‘If you see that smirk on one side of the face during an interview do not hire that person because they’re going to be a pain in the backside, they’re not going to respect you and they already think they’re better than the job.’

Action: Dele looks away
What this means: I’m sceptical
Decoded: Mourinho is happy to make eye contact, but Dele isn’t, especially when Mourinho says, “I think you feel that I like you.” Dele kind of shrugs and snorts. He’s sceptical. He’s saying, ‘I’m not meeting you halfway.’ For a normal conversation, it’s normal to hold about 60% eye contact, whereas I’d say Dele does a lot less than that. He’s not fully engaged with what’s being said, whereas Harry didn’t take his eyes off Jose.

Action: Jose wrinkles his nose
What this means: I’m disgusted
Decoded: When Jose talks about Dele not reaching his potential, he wrinkles his nose, which says, ‘I do not like that’. It’s not that he’s disgusted by Dele Alli, he doesn’t like the fact he’s not reaching his potential.

Action: No handshake
What this means: We’re not in agreement
Decoded: Shaking hands signals an agreement at the end of a conversation so does the fist bump. The lack of connection in any way between Jose and Dele at the end of the conversation probably indicates they aren’t in agreement and will do their own thing.

Verdict: Harry Kane is open for information, Dele Alli is very sceptical. He doesn’t really nod along, he’s a lot more reserved. He’s holding something back.

Football writer specialising in sports science and performance. His work has appeared in FourFourTwo, Men's Health and The Independent https://www.benwelch.org/

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