When Aston Villa announced they had hired ‘one of English football’s most highly sought after managers’ the footballing nation was bemused with speculation.
‘Mourinho? Can’t be, why would he leave Chelsea to go to Aston? Maybe he’s a secret Black Sabbath fan. No, no, doesn’t sound right. Pulis has only just gone to the Baggies. Ahh, it must be Big Sam. He’s had enough of being hounded by the ever indignant West Ham fans, he must have jumped ship’.
One of ‘English football’s most highly sought after managers’ would turn out to be none of those names mentioned. Not even close. The mystery figure in question would be a guy whose only experience in management to date was a six month stint as caretaker of Spurs – Aston Villa’s new manager was Tim Sherwood.
You could hear the belly laughs booming from the jazz-infused coffee houses around the nation. Former humanities students wiped crumbs of Camembert from their opulent mouths and derided Villa for failing to hire a stylish Belgian in a snood.
Even football fans that are positively disposed towards Sherwood are ostensibly flummoxed by his apparent high status. For there have been innumerable caretaker managers throughout the seasons, some have performed terribly, Steve Wigley and Les Reed spring to mind, while others have actually improved their teams and taken them to new heights [Roberto Di Matteo winning the European Cup is the obvious example], but none have caught the public’s imagination like Sherwood.
Caretakers in the past have, by and large, appeared humble in front of the television cameras. They act as if they are just glad to be there. Just glad to be out of the house. They stutter through interviews, looking at the audience with big sad puppy dog eyes. Sherwood was different. Upon being asked if he’d like the Spurs job permanently, he’d give a noncommittal, comme ci comme ca type response and state that the job needed to be right for him.
Suddenly there was a caretaker manager who didn’t appear desperate. He might take the job, he might not and you better believe he didn’t need it.
The pattern continued post-Spurs. Sherwood was turning down managerial positions at Premier League teams ordinarily far beyond his level of experience but weirdly enough this only added to the phenomenon.
During his press interviews at Spurs, Sherwood would speak openly and candidly like a fan. In a football world becoming increasingly sanitised and media-trained, Sherwood’s passionate post-match exchanges were incredibly refreshing to some but sharply criticised by the less enamoured.
Indeed the critics would often scoff at the outlandish displays of passion on the side-lines [including an incident where he hurled a gilet at a sponsor-board]; Sherwood’s self-belief belied his caretaker manager status and this intensified the bitterness aimed in his direction.
Let’s be frank, Tim is disproportionately disliked by football’s self-appointed intelligentsia. The type of people who are edging out the traditional working class support as ticket prices rocket and the rich sweep in.
The type of fans that are perpetually connected to the Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast via their iPods like a sickly patient connected to an oxygen tank; those fans who can run you through the merits of the Trequartista position. They who know the FIFA price of everyone, but the value of no one.
They don’t tend to like Sherwood much.
He’s too working class; he’s too candid; too emotional; too British for their tastes. They much prefer an AVB or a Juande Ramos, so they denigrate and undermine Sherwood using the tools at their disposal – internet memes and Vines.
How unfortunate for them that Sherwood utterly smashed AVB and Juande Ramos’ records at Spurs into paella.
Prior to Sherwood’s arrival at Spurs, the hapless and confused AVB had wasted £109m on a bunch of disinterested flops in the hope of mitigating the damage done by losing Gareth Bale. Spurs had scored just 15 goals in 16 league games – for a Tottenham side famous for attacking flair in recent times, this was unheard of.
Under AVB during the 13/14 season Spurs were lacklustre, lacking in confidence, the manager blamed everyone from the fans to the medical staff as chief causes for the club’s woes. They were hit for six at Manchester City; embarrassed by a 3-0 home defeat to rivals West Ham and when Liverpool danced around White Hart Lane to an easy 5-0 win the Portuguese coach with the designer stubble was finally given his marching orders.
Enter Tim Sherwood.
The job looked daunting. Spurs were Bale-less; the replacements didn’t seem to want to be there; the strikers were misfiring and the defence was shipping in bucket loads of goals in high profile games.
That was the 22nd of December.
By the 11th of May, Sherwood’s Spurs had scored 40 goals in 22 league games. Emmanuel Adebayor was playing the best football of his career after being brought in from the wilderness and given a new lease of life by a manager who believed in him. Nabil Bentaleb was introduced to the side. An unknown lad by the name of Harry Kane was blooded into the first XI, youngsters Ryan Mason and Danny Rose saw their careers blossom.
Football’s intelligentsia were frantically bashing into their iPods, demanding answers from the Guardian Weekly priests. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
Sherwood finished the season with one of the best points to games ratios in Tottenham history: P22, W13, D3, L6.
Even today Sherwood’s legacy at Spurs lives on. It isn’t AVB’s £109m flops that form the backbone of new manager Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham XI. It is the players Sherwood brought through from the academy, au gratis.
Begrudgingly, this Birmingham fan has to concede that Villa have done a shrewd bit of business by securing Sherwood’s services. The success at Spurs shows Tim is more than adept at getting the best out of another manager’s players while concurrently developing the youth set up. If Sherwood isn’t to stay there for the long term, Sunderland proved with the appointment of Paolo Di Canio that a maverick man-motivator in the short term can provide enough energy and momentum for a club to claw to survival.
Even if you ignore the football-based arguments behind the appointment, the razzle dazzle and press attention that comes with the Sherwood Show will surely add a bit of excitement and glamour to what has been a dull, low-scoring, sterile club of late.
If Birmingham didn’t have Gary Rowett as manager I’d be looking over the city with green eyes. As it is, I’ll be observing with interest only. Can Sherwood silence the critics again by leading Villa to safety?
If he does there will be plenty of smashed iPads up and down the country and the stylish Belgian in the snood will have to sit in the Eurostar waiting room a short while longer.
Chris Brown is a football blogger for the Birmingham Mail and a budding sitcom writer. Follow him on twitter @VivaBrownie