Tim Sherwood: The people's manager

Michael Regan

Tottenham Hotspur manager Tim Sherwood says what 606 callers are thinking. That's probably not a good thing.

"One thing I guarantee is no one cares more than me... I need people in that dressing room to be hurting like I am."

"It hurts me. I'm not going to forget this by the time we hit the motorway. Some might."

"In my opinion you’ve either got it in you or you haven’t. More and more need to stand up and be counted."

In the aftermath of Tottenham Hotspur's self-inflicted calamity at Stamford Bridge, it was to be expected that there might so harsh words floating around on North London airwaves. You don't lose 4-0 to Chelsea and expect the fans to take it sitting down, and radio call-ins were built to accommodate a nice, healthy rant. What you don't expect is for the manager to join in.

But Tim Sherwood's tenure at White Hart Lane has always been marked by a profound sense of the odd. Former manager Andre Villas-Boas was axed in December, and since then the club has veered off their former path of unwatchable-but-alright-I-guess football into a veritable minefield of blissful insanity.

It's not the Sherwood is a bad manager, per se. It's that he's barely a manager at all. Without wanting to question the man's credentials -- he's been coaching for five years, after all -- his time in charge of Spurs has been marked by the suspicion that the club might have got exactly the same result had they simply pulled a random fan off the street.

  • Inconsistent, bizarre tactics combined with an inability to turn matches around? Check.
  • Employing a coaching staff averse to the very concept of a defensive midfielder? Check.
  • Insinuating that the British are persecuted in football? Check.
  • Latching on to a youth player and playing him ahead of several superior options? Check.
  • Calling out one's players in public for a perceived lack of passion? Check.

Sherwood is essentially a tactical atheist. His first games in charged were marked by his disdain for the grand, historic institution of 'midfield', turning matches Tottenham were used to dominating into bizarre shootouts, most of which they were lucky enough to win. On Saturday against Chelsea, Sherwood came up with a tactical surprise; which is to say he used as many players out of position as humanly possible. Aaron Lennon was fielded behind the striker; right back Kyle Walker was used on the right flank. In reality, the starting 11 he picked was completely reasonable, built to hold out and hit the Blues on the break -- and then the manager fused it with an attacking focus which saw Spurs encamped in their opponents' half but without anything approaching a cutting edge.

It was a bizarre mismatch which Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was quick to criticise after the game. Claiming that despite the possession, Spurs never put his side under any pressure, Mourinho went on to claim that Walker's selection as an attacking player completely nullified any threat they might have had down the right. Meanwhile, Sherwood was defending his tactics -- but slamming his players. The game was under control until a mistake, a bad call, and then 'gutless' capitulation from his untrustworthy players.

His now-infamous post-match comments were mostly-well received by Spurs support. "At last", they seemed to be saying, "Here is a man who tells it like it is." And yes, it might very well be that Tottenham's clubhouse is full of soft characters, fully deserving of their manager's ire. They certainly haven't played well, although who that's down to is at the very least an open question.

The club has gone from at least having some semblance of a plan to being Ebbsfleet United writ large

Spurs haven't offered Sherwood much more than an extended trial run at the helm, and it's not difficult to see why. Managers have an insanely difficult job, a mixture of PR, controlling the clubhouse and demonstrating the high-level tactical skills required to win a modern football match. And in every situation Sherwood is going for the populist approach, echoing the chest-beating rah rahs of his supporters, in stark contrast to the gruff cerebrality of his predecessor.

If you let an message board collectively run a club -- Twitch Plays Tottenham, if you like -- the result would look remarkably similar to Tim Sherwood's tenure at White Hart Lane. Yes, he has the virtue of not being Andre Villas-Boas, but then again so does everyone else, and in the meantime the club has gone from at least having some semblance of a plan to being Ebbsfleet United writ large.

Yes, Sherwood will get support from the media, largely thanks to the colour of his passport. Yes, he'll have the support of the fans, largely because fans have always valued caring more than thinking, and Sherwood's ability to care is world class. Yes, he'll win some games, because there's only so wrong you can go with a team as talented as Tottenham's.

And yes, one day he might emerge as a decent manager. But until then, there's a reason that the club's board are studiously ignoring his pointed requests for a long-term job.

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