‘Why does Tim Sherwood keep getting cut down?’
Sherwood’s career as manager of Tottenham Hotspur does not look promising any more
Tim Sherwood: His contract runs until summer 2015, but Daniel Levy has not spoken up to dispel rumours that the manager’s time will be up at the end of this season. “The silence has been deafening,” Sherwood said. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire
In football the result is king, but the problem with kings is that they are often degenerate or insane. Kings and results alike are frequently unjust: teams sometimes play badly and win, other times they play well and lose.
Dutch football coach Co Adriaanse used to get annoyed with journalists who appeared to have forgotten – or perhaps hadn’t noticed – what had actually happened in a game and let the result dictate the story. He coined a phrase to describe their work: “scoreboard journalism”.
If Tim Sherwood’s career as Tottenham manager is cut down in its prime, he can at least take pride in having invented a new sub-genre of coaching: scoreboard management.
Here’s Sherwood after Spurs beat Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford on New Year’s Day: “They were there for the taking I felt. I think we showed the heart of a lion out there today. We really dug in when we had to, as you would expect. I think we’ve got the players to achieve something.”
And here he is speaking after Spurs’ 4-0 defeat to Chelsea last Saturday: “Lack of characters. Too many of them too nice with each other. Need to show a bit more gut. And not want to be someone’s mate all the time. It can’t always be me having a pop at them. They need to drag it out of each other. Listen, there’s a few I’d count on, there’s a few I wouldn’t.”
Here’s Sherwood after Spurs’ 3-1 win over Swansea in January: “The club needs to finish in fourth place. Anything other than that will be a disappointment but realistically we should be in amongst it.”
And again on Saturday: “Talking about fourth, everyone in the club talks about fourth. Wake up.”
Watching Sherwood angrily condemn the efforts of his players in that instant-classic post-match interview with Geoff Shreeves on Saturday evening, it was hard to believe this was the same man who had breezed into the job three months ago preaching self-expression, entertainment and good vibes.
The really curious thing about it was that, ridiculous as it may sound, Spurs hadn’t even really played that badly. As 4-0 hidings go, there wasn’t much in it. The scoreline was the result of an astonishing, once-in-a-decade sequence of bizarre individual mistakes.
More than half of the match was a stalemate, with two cautious sides unable to force many chances. Then Jan Vertonghen made the worst mistake he will make all season and Samuel Eto’o scored. Three minutes later, Spurs conceded a dubious penalty and Kaboul received a harsh red card. Eden Hazard scored: game over.
Just before the end, Sandro made the worst mistake he will make all season, and Demba Ba scored. Then Kyle Walker made the worst mistake he will make all season, and Demba Ba scored again.
The mistakes Spurs made were clumsy and embarrassing and difficult for any manager to take, but these things happen. Everybody make mistakes. Once in a while, we all metaphorically fall over and slash a desperate back-pass straight to the feet of the opposing centre-forward.
Sherwood apparently was not prepared to consider these points in defence of his players, but a few minutes later, he marshalled them in defence of himself.
In the press conference, a reporter told Sherwood that Gary Lineker had questioned his team selection by wondering if the players’ positions had been allocated by “lucky dip”.
Sherwood was defiant: “I thought they did well first half. You can’t start picking holes in it now. So Gary’s right, is he? Cos of the second-half performance? Cos someone slips over and the referee gives them a penalty? All of a sudden, Gary’s right? No, it can’t be that.”
In hindsight, maybe Sherwood wishes he had struck a similar tone in the interview with Shreeves.
Or maybe not. His remarks in the interview did not sound like those of a man who expects to be in the job for much longer.
Indeed, it became clear that Sherwood has been disappointed by the lack of public backing from the Spurs chairman Daniel Levy. Sherwood’s contract runs until summer 2015, but Levy has not spoken up to dispel rumours that the manager’s time will be up at the end of this season. “The silence has been deafening,” Sherwood said.
In fact, the only person willing to speak publicly about Sherwood’s future is Louis van Gaal, who acknowledged last month that Spurs could be an interesting challenge for him when he finishes his work with the Netherlands after the World Cup.
Sherwood’s mood probably hadn’t been improved by the patronising behaviour of José Mourinho, who came over to shake hands with him and headed off down the tunnel before the referee had actually blown the final whistle. Mourinho would later refer to Sherwood, who is six years younger than him, as “a young manager”.
In the circumstances, Sherwood’s frustration was certainly understandable. But if a manager wants to stick around in any job, he has be prepared to swallow a lot of bile.
We can only imagine how many times Arsene Wenger, say, has felt like throwing his players under a bus in the nine years since their last trophy. All we know is that he’s never actually done it – and that restraint under pressure is one of the reasons why he’s still got the job.