The Obituary Column: Farewell, Tim Sherwood

Paul Gilham

Tim Sherwood has been sacked as Tottenham Hotspur manager, and a nation weeps for his passing. Join us in offering your condolences.

What a season it's been for interim managers. No sooner did the latest chorus of "British managers never get a chance" begin to waft through the air than BOOM! Neil Adams! Garry Monk! Ryan Giggs! Anybody British who could both utter the sentence ‘Great bunch of lads' and had ever been considered as a signing purely to ‘have around the dressing room' was suddenly taking his coaching badges and being given a shot at the big-time. And then came the daddy of them all: Timothy Sherwood.

There's not much to be said about the practicalities of the Sherwood reign beyond that it is apparent that he is neither a very good tactician nor a particularly inspirational figure in the dressing room. Spurs played some pretty insipid football under André Villas-Boas, and when Sherwood came out with his first lineup, it was a petulant rebuttal to his predecessor's method. 4-4-2, one defensive midfielder and one attacking one, wingers, and a big-man-little-man striker combo. We thought he might then revert to something more sensible. We were wrong, as Sherwood spent much of the rest of the season hurling ever-more attackers into his lineups. Amazingly, and almost admirably, the team were not only no better than under AVB, they were barely any more exciting.

In lieu of breathtaking football, then, Sherwood thrilled the masses and delighted fans with his incredible lack of self-awareness. Whether he did so as a knowing, ingenious reference or simply because he had completely lost it, his final-day act of inviting a fan in to manage the team was more or less a restaging of him being given his job in the first place. Sherwood never seemed likely to have been appointed manager in the belief he'd actually be good at it -- perhaps there was a small chance, but ultimately he was there to oversee things, be a good soldier, collect a modest payoff and probably end up at West Brom in two years. Instead, he refused to go gently into the good night, and made a fool of himself in the process.

But how much of this is his fault here? Tim Sherwood is lampooned for his obsession with grit, passion, fight, and whatever other platitude you want to attribute to the unshaven Alf Garnett in Spurs' technical area, but aside from focusing on these matters at the expense of... well, everything else. The list of feeble, pathetic displays was a long one. Sherwood is right to point out that he didn't get them from his side. But he sold himself as precisely the man to bring them back, and his failure could not have been more stark.

It seems like Sherwood is a parody, a character drawn up for a When Saturday Comes column, something sent to neatly illustrate every single problem with English coaching. It's not merely his thinking that a more direct, attacking style can work, or his distrust of certain sacred cows of the modern game like possession or positional discipline that the unimaginative might attribute as ‘football hipsterism.' Instead, the problem is how uniquely terrible and ill-deservedly arrogant he is at attempting to get across his own jejune interpretations of those ideas.

At first, Tim seemed like the anti-AVB, but it has now become clear that he's essentially an anglicised re-interpretation. Both are marked by a completely unwarranted self-belief in badly applying interesting ideas. Both men and their bizarre fanclubs are two different cheeks on the same sad pair of buttocks that is the English footballing milieu, just like people who thought Scott Parker was England class and those who professed to go all homoerotic at the sight of Andrea Pirlo's facial hair were complementary rather than in opposition to one another.

The revulsion and exoticisation with foreign ideas and teams are the Coke and Pepsi of an English inferiority complex. The problem isn't romanticising the past or the imagined future, it's romanticising full stop. The same obsession has led to the reviled League Three proposals, at the same time that England has begun to produce a new generation of great talent. But as Tottenham have shown us via the sheer absurdity of their past season, obsessing over one style or another probably isn't the best way of building a football team. Perhaps we can now contemplate the following a path other than imitation or self-parody.

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