Since Paul Lambert was sacked two days ago, the first name on most people's lips to replace him has been former Tottenham Hotspur manager Tim Sherwood. But whenever the name comes up, normally callous Spurs fans very earnestly say that they would never wish such a thing on Aston Villa. Looking at records, it seems as if they might just be biased against him for not doing quite as much as they said.
But some very smart people kept insisting that he would be terrible. So I went to the source and asked some of the writers at Cartilage Free Captain, our Spurs blog, to give me cogent reasons why we might not want Tim Sherwood. And the three of them responded with a ton of words. So this is part one of two. Here we'll look at what might make Sherwood terrible, and in part two we'll cover any possible redeeming qualities he may have. Spoiler alert: after reading these two article, you may want to jump off the Sherwood bandwagon.
What can you say about Tim Sherwood's tactics while he was at Tottenham?
Dustin Gerber Martin: I’ll leave it to Michael or Greg to write specifics on "Tactics Tim’s" tactics, since they’ll do a much better job than I can. So instead I’ll just say that during his tenure he played Nacer Chadli as a defensive midfielder, and Kyle Walker as a #10. That, I believe, speaks for itself.
Michael Caley: I honestly believe he did not have tactics. He betrayed zero understanding of the dynamics of a football match. I think my favorite example is the match Spurs drew with West Bromwich Albion over the holidays. Sherwood had been playing a wide-open 4-4-2 with little organization in midfield (he attempted a midfield pairing of two #10s, Christian Eriksen and Gylfi Sigurdsson, at one horrible point). West Brom manager Pepe Mel used the world's simplest counter to the 4-4-2 - a 3-CB set up that allowed him to have a free CB while both strikers were covered. Tim made absolutely no tactical countermoves all match. It was like a chess match in which one player moves his pawns down the board and the other chooses to forfeit his turns instead of play, claiming his pieces need to show more belief in themselves. Spurs scored on a brilliant free kick by Christian Eriksen and did next to nothing from open play. I have never had less fun watching a football match in my life.
After bad results, Sherwood almost without fail complained about the lack of effort or belief. After being comprehensively outcoached by Mel, Sherwood said, ""We didn't carve them open enough and didn't show enough quality in the final third, that was disappointing. It's important we believe and risk a little more." It may sound like typical blather, but nothing about Sherwood's tactics ever suggested he didn't believe it whole-heartedly.
There have been comparisons to Harry Redknapp that I think are importantly off-base. For one, Redknapp at his peak always had more going on tactically than his media persona would indicate. For another, Redknapp was very good at placing his players in reasonably simple roles where they could excel. Tim Sherwood by contrast decided that Nacer Chadli, a winger probably best used as a wide forward, should play central midfield in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1. He was awful. Sherwood tried Kyle Walker not as an attacking wing, which would be wrong but not insane, but as a #10. It was horrific. He showed next to no ability to draw up simple tactics around his players' strengths. Those he got good performances from were players who either were too good to fail (Eriksen) or had already been established in the correct position beforehand (Kane, Adebayor, Vertonghen, Bentaleb.)
Sherwood had a run of results with Tottenham mostly because Emmanuel Adebayor, on his career no more than a mediocre finisher, went on the hot streak of his life for two months. Once Ade cooled down, the results fell off to match the club's overall play. Defensively we were a shambles, and that's being generous.
Skipjack: He played Kyle Walker. In Central Midfield. Against a Jose Mourinho coached Chelsea. Think about that. No really. Stop what you're doing and think about how a manager of a Premier League team with enough money to challenge for the top four actually did that. In a football game. That mattered. Sherwood was a tactical moron. Tottenham scored more under him than under AVB, but this has less to do with him coming up with a new game plan and more to do with him just taking AVB's leash off of them. Of course this complete lack of planning led to us leaking goals and conceding leads like crazy. You know how everyone thinks Harry Redknapp is a hapless idiot who tells people to run around and try hard? That is what Tim Sherwood actually is.
The biggest issue that many bring up with Sherwood is his personality. What about him is so toxic?
Dustin: Tim tried to craft himself as a populist, arm-around-the-shoulder, up by the bootstraps kind of player's manager, but in truth he was one of the first to blame his own players when things didn't go well on the pitch. He talked incessantly about how Spurs lacked "grit" and "heart," both English football terrace buzz-words that were crafted to endear himself to the common fan in the stands, but had absolutely no meaning in the context of a football match. To be fair, he probably believed it himself, but he came across as as more of a "lad" and less of a tactically astute, intelligent manager. I think he saw himself as a media-savvy and friendly manager in the style of Redknapp, but his propensity to throw his own players under the bus didn't endear him to many fans (though in fairness it did appeal to a certain subset of Tottenham fandom, who love him to this day).
Moreover, it's pretty common knowledge now that before AVB left the club Sherwood was actively trying to undermine his credibility and position himself to succeed him as Tottenham's new manager. There are lots of accounts of back-stabbing, Machiavellian maneuvering, and cozying up with key figures in Spurs' front office. All of it is hearsay of course, but considering his behavior during and since his Tottenham tenure, it's not one I find particularly difficult to believe.
Michael: Sherwood regularly blamed his players for losses. He would play Nacer Chadli in central midfield and then complain that Spurs were conceding chances because the lads weren't showing enough heart and effort. He mocked Erik Lamela's injury problems. It was utterly maddening.
There were persistent rumors that previous to his hiring Sherwood had been undermining Andre Villas-Boas with the players and with the front office. I don't believe such rumors have been reported anywhere trustworthy, but it would fit with Sherwood's public behavior where he seemed unconcerned about undermining those players who weren't performing or fit.
Skipjack: Sherwood was very much looking out for number one. He would blame the team for losing because they did not show enough spirit. Most interestingly he did this after Spurs got obliterated by Chelsea, which happened in large part because he played Kyle Walker, who is a right back, in central midfield. He would also do things like make fun of our 22 year old record signing Erik Lamela for not speaking English. That would be 22 year old Argentine Erik Lamela who was clearly having trouble adjusting to England. He's a complete dickhead.
Give me your anti-Sherwood case in one sentence.
Dustin:If you are an insane person who doesn't understand football, uses the word YOLO in everyday conversation, and appreciates heart, grit, and effort, then Tim is the manager for you. But you're probably not that person, so look elsewhere.
...Oh damn, that's two sentences. Whatever.
Michael: Tim Sherwood is aggressively and proudly ignorant of basic football tactics.
Skipjack: I don't know if you know this, but he's dumb enough to start Kyle Walker in the midfield against Jose Mourinho's Chelsea.
We'll have part two up in thirty minutes. But after reading this, are you more wary of hiring Sherwood? Let us know below!