December 24, 2013

What a difference a week makes

Just eight days ago, André Villas-Boas departed. Dignified to the end of his tenure. Well liked within the club, well-respected by most. I wish it had worked out for AVB.

He was a Head Coach (or manager, in old money) that made me proud. He was a gentleman who was always professional in his dealings with the press, a man who had quite literally studied the game (writing dossiers on opponents, etc) and who had a fixed idea of what he wanted to achieve on the pitch. In my opinion it was ironically these ideals that eventually did for him.

Squeeze the pitch with a high line. Play at least two high-tempo pressing players in midfield to win the ball high. Transition quickly from back to front, mostly feeding wide players who are able to cut in and score goals. What this ended up looking like for much of his tenure was: squeeze the pitch, keep things tight, don’t take too many risks, and score from range. Mostly through Gareth Bale who, incidentally, became truly world-class under André.

And it was sort of working. Last season, famously, we amounted our highest Premier League points tally. This season we were only five points behind Manchester City in 4th place despite not (yet) playing well. We were only one point worse off than the corresponding fixtures in 2012/13.

The problem seemed to be that the ‘keep things tight’ approach meant that goals were not flowing. And when goals are not flowing, and things are suddenly not as tight as they were, there are not too many positives to take. There was no obvious pattern to our attacking play – it was not at all clear at times what he ideally wanted to achieve in the final third other than encouraging wide players to get shots away. There were no signs of growing cohesion or a plan slowly being established over time.

When things got a little desperate, André started to tinker with his methods. Lack of flexibility was cited – by me and others – as being an issue for AVB, but as soon as he showed flexibility, things went badly wrong. He tried Paulinho as a 10 – it was hit and miss. He tried traditional wingers away at Man City; we lost 6-0. He tried Capoue as last-ditch central-defensive cover, and he was exposed by Liverpool.

He had – sort of – a sense of control when he had the inverted wingers cutting inside and congesting the midfield. There was limited space for us to work in, but there was also limited space for the opposition to spring from. In trying things – doing what many of us wanted him to do – he was almost showing that he’d given up on what he had previously stuck to so rigidly. Perhaps his stubbornness should have continued? Perhaps his plan would have eventually become clear?

The reason I was sad, but not tearing my hair out when AVB was let go, was that whilst we saw him as a long-term project, I never truly felt like he saw us the same way. He had said at the end of June: “For me, there is a limit and, in the next five to 10 years, I will quit coaching.” And, of course, there was his ambition – “a destination of life” in his own words – to compete in the Dakar Rally”. Maybe he’d have stuck around for three years or so, we’ll never know.

One week on – Sherwood

The Club can announce that Tim Sherwood, Chris Ramsey and Les Ferdinand will take charge of the First Team whilst the Club progresses discussions.

The appointment of Tim Sherwood into this caretaker role was met with raised eyebrows from many Spurs fans, and an absolute meltdown from a few. He’s an Arsenal fan. He spoke out against Hoddle all those years ago. He’s a snake in the grass who told Keys & Gray that our players were over-trained under AVB.

And yet it sort of seemed a logical step. Sherwood is – or was – our Technical Co-Ordinator, working with the Development squad, arranging loan deals for our young hopefuls, and liaising with the rest of the coaching team to keep them updated on progress. He also, it seems, had some sort of sway with Levy – impressing him with his professionalism and knowledge, culminating, if you believe what you read, in him being a part of the THFCTC – the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club Transfer Committee.

I’ve oft spotted Sherwood watching the Under-18 games, despite him not having the remit to look after that age group. He looks the part – suited and booted – and parents have told me that he’s approachable, open, honest. He seems to have an aura.

As the main voice in the dugout at Under-21 matches he seems to command respect. I stood behind him at the pre-season friendly against Kingstonian, and wrote the following post-match:

I stood behind the dugout during the second half, and it was fascinating to hear the vocal input from Sherwood, Ramsey and Ferdinand. Whilst all three were quite critical of their players – Ferdinand especially with Coultirst (“don’t be a midfielder”), Sherwood with Gallifuoco, and all three with Ceballos (Sherwood: “Cristian, we need you”, Ramsey: “Cristian – you have to pass that”) – the feedback was all constructive, with instructions given of what they expected. This was very refreshing, as I can clearly remember the days of Clive Allen just yelling constant expletives.

Sherwood was also described by Swindon’s Chairman Lee Power as “one of the most knowledgeable and forward-thinking men currently in the game.” It’s worth pointing out that Power and Sherwood are good friends and have an excellent professional relationship (hence the Swindon loans), but it’s the choice of words that stand out.

Sherwood’s an Arsenal fan – there’s no getting away from that. But he seems to be trying to show that he’s committed to his role at Spurs. Three days ago he told the media “I know all about the football club. I played here, it’s my club. I know what the supporters want.” Professionalism or genuine affection? Who knows, but he’s making the right noises. And, frankly, he’s spent more than a fifth of his life at Spurs in one way or another, so why wouldn’t he care?

He’s resented by many because he criticised Glenn Hoddle after he (Sherwood) had left Spurs. He was not the only one who felt that way about Hoddle though – in fact, Ledley King was relatively outspoken about Hoddle’s “methods” in his autobiography – and yet there doesn’t seem to be any noise about this.

In an interview with The Guardian in 2008, Sherwood was asked “You didn’t get on very well with Glenn Hoddle, though, did you?” He replied:

‘I love what he’s doing at the moment with his academy, not that I want to give him a plug.

As a manager, though, he loved the game and he loved Tottenham but we clashed. I had an opinion and he obviously didn’t want to hear it.’

To me that showed a level of maturity – he still had an opinion, but he was polite enough to put it to one side and respect what Hoddle is (was) doing elsewhere.

On the pitch

In the two matches that Sherwood’s taken charge of so far, he’s gone with a 4-4-2 formation with two strikers, two wingers, and no holding midfield player. In the West Ham game he was hamstrung by not having the returning Rose and Adebayor for the whole game. He set us out to get lots of crosses into the box, and was reliant on the team getting ahead while they were full strength. They didn’t manage to take their chances and we were only ahead by one. West Ham went for the opposite approach, starting a weaker team but bringing key men on. As soon as Adebayor and Rose came off, West Ham took control of the game and brought on Maiga, Diame and Morrison. Allardyce smelt blood and his team, unlike Spurs, managed to get goals when they were on top.

Against Southampton, as I wrote in my goal analysis blog, Sherwood took a calculated risk. By setting us out in a 4-4-2 without a dedicated defensive midfield player (albeit Dembele mostly held, and his average position was essentially the same as Schneiderlin’s), Sherwood ensured that we had bodies in the box far more than we had seen in our other matches this season. It paid dividends, and we scored more than twice in the league for the first time since April. We also conceded two but mostly these goals were down to individual errors rather than specific failures within the system (although it could be said that Chiriches was unsure whether to stay with his man or drop off for the second goal, due to not knowing the system well enough).

Note: The Under-19s (NextGen Series side) and Under-21s tended to play a free-flowing 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 under Sherwood, so there’s no indication that he favours 4-4-2 as a system per se. Many have said that this was at the insistence of AVB, but we’d been playing the same system(s) pre-AVB, and I personally never saw AVB at one of the matches, so I find that unlikely.

Off the pitch

It’s unlikely that it was the performance on Sunday that made up Levy’s mind to give Sherwood the manager’s role on a permanent basis (at least for 18 months). More likely it is the work that he has done in the background over the past five years.

Whilst the decision to appoint an inexperienced manager – one who does not even have the UEFA Pro Licence – has not gone down well, generally, I can see the logic.

There is a sense of continuity about the appointment, which I like and admire. Just as much as it gives a sense of satisfaction when a youth player gets a game for the first team – and I was very proud to see Nabil Bentaleb come off the bench on Sunday – there is a good feeling associated with an internal promotion. Sherwood might not have top-level management experience, but he clearly has a skill set which Levy has deemed transferable.

He’s naturally confident in front of the cameras or behind the microphone – to the extent where many have called him arrogant. I particularly liked this TalkSport interview in the summer here he was very positive and backed the club over Bale. He came across as being ‘on message’, and whilst his thoughts on Bale didn’t come to fruition, the positivity was to be admired.

Qualifications

I’ve seen plenty of comment about Sherwood being literally (in the words of Jamie Redknapp) unqualified to do this job. This is due to the fact that he does not possess a UEFA Pro Licence. This is the final UEFA coaching qualification (following the A and B Licenses, which Sherwood already possesses). The course is generally carried out over a year, and the club will need to ask the FA whether Sherwood can continue as manager without it in the meantime. The precedent (set with Paul Ince at Blackburn, for example) seems to be for the FA to give the manager the time to earn the qualification. Glenn Roeder, Gareth Southgate and Avram Grant have also all managed in the Premier League without the license.

In the meantime, if people are worried about unqualified coaches, they need look no further than Chris Ramsey, who has now moved up with Sherwood and Ferdinand to the first team coaching setup. Ramsey has achieved a lot in a distinguished coaching career – he has coached the England U20 side to the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship. He has worked for the FA as a Regional Director of Coaching. He was a scout for the England team under Keegan. As well as the UEFA Pro Licence, which he obtained in 2004, he has an FA Coach Education Diploma, a diploma in Treatment of Sports Injuries and also a first degree in Education, and Masters in Science. He was recently asked by Peter Taylor to be his Assistant Head Coach for the England Under-20 side for this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Turkey. He’s insanely qualified.

Sherwood might be a Gooner, might be a snake in the grass, might be seen giving a Sky Sports interview whilst hanging out of a Land Rover… but let’s wait and see before writing him off as such.

We’ve got a huge squad, with plenty of attacking players with flair. In the likes of Lloris, Vertonghen, Sandro, Lamela, and Soldado we have some very talented players who would be wanted by the majority of clubs around Europe. Given that Sherwood has to make things happen relatively quickly, he is likely to focus on keeping it simple, letting his side build their confidence. To me, this seems to be exactly what they need. They need their fragile confidence rebuilt, and if that requires him to be more Harry Redknapp than André Villas-Boas in the short term, then so be it.

As an aside, in Adebayor we have a talent who needs to be managed carefully. Nobody knows the ins and outs of what has gone on since the death of his brother. Was AVB heartless in making him train with the reserves, or was he trying to give him the space and time to get his head right? Was Ade fit and available but not picked, or still getting up to speed? In fact, nobody knows the ins and outs of the whole of last season – a lot of assumptions are made about Adebayor’s character, which his obvious popularity within the squad seem to contradict. What we do know is that in the last two matches, he has played like he really wanted it; he was a joy to watch and made us realise what we’ve been missing. Long may Sherwood continue getting the best out of him.

Development Squad

And finally, to the Development Squad. It seems a shame that the Development Squad has lost their figurehead. But the players currently in that squad will surely be filled with confidence that they’ll have opportunities – especially after seeing their teammate, Bentaleb, brought on ahead of Holtby and Capoue, and playing so well – in fact, being instrumental in the second goal.

I wrote back in October about the lack of opportunities for youth players under AVB – this should change under Sherwood. He knows our talented young players so well, and is clearly not concerned about putting them straight into the first team squad. There has to be a chance that Tom Carroll will be recalled in January, and I would also expect to see Harry Kane involved more as the season goes on.

As for who takes over as the manager of the Under-21 side, who knows. There is a whole coaching team to replace, and it will presumably take some time to do so. In the interim period, perhaps the coaches will split their time between the first team and Development squad, or perhaps the Academy coaches will have to be involved. It will be interesting to see how it pans out.

COYS

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  • ultrapunch says:

    He played Capoue in central defence against Liverpool because he had no one else to play there!! Vertoghan, Kaboul and Chiriches were out injured. Please do your homework!!

    • Alan says:

      You read the whole article yet you decided to make such a redundant point. What a shame.

      Personally, I thought it was a good read and offers good insight as to what we can expect from Sherwood from a tactical and man-management perspective.

    • Bob says:

      Such a trivial thing to pick up. That’s not even the main point of his article..

      Anyhow, great article, great read, and good job on the quotes and references. It’s appreciated.

      I hate articles that is half-assed with no source backing up what they’re saying!

      But kudos man for that effort.

      Sherwood to unleash the potential of our talented players and we’ll thrash City and Liverpool next time we face them kekeke =]

    • Geoff says:

      The point being, why play a high line with only those players available. It was AVB’s inflexibility come inability to adapt to changing circumstances that meant, in my opinion, he had to go.

    • WindyCOYS says:

      He could have played Fryers or even Veljkovic, both more suited to the high line. Or he could have abandoned the high line for that game (preference).

      • dani says:

        So could have Sherwood v Waste Spam.
        He could have played Fryers alongside Vlad and put Capoue in front of the back four alongside dembele.
        He could then have played Adebayor in the hole to accommodate him in a 4321 if he is not that keen on 442. He didn’t.
        We looked like headless chickens when we didn’t have the ball that game, and we also did 1st half v Saints.
        Adebayor will have to work hard rest of the season and fill that hole in the middle if we continue to play 442. I can see us conceding more goals than we score. We will eventually lose more games instead of the 0-0’s or 1-0’s we were getting.
        Be fair Rose’s ball to Eriksen for the first was terrible and only made it to him via a deflection. Then when he did get it back his cross was pants and managed to miss the two Spurs players in the box by yards, only to come off one of theirs.
        The second goal had an element of luck too.
        I have never seen anyone get turned over and make as many passes to the opposition as Rose did Saturday.
        We need a LB. I am not convinced by his passing or defensive ability( especially his positioning)
        He was at fault for the first goal, as he was too deep and not in the line. Daws had to then backtrack and go with Lalana, then Rose moved up, not intentionally, Daws then played lalana onside by an inch.
        If you look closely Rose was out of the line in the Lloris save in another identical move.

    • Karlos says:

      If that’s all you took from that whole article….?!

      Great read Windy very interesting.

      Here’s to 2014!

      COYS

    • Anonymous says:

      Wise words, crucial injuries to the back four combined with bad form (Dawson) May have greatly contributed to his departure, more than we realise

  • Jill says:

    Good stuff. When it comes down to it tho’ it became simple for me, I didn’t want a Spurs manager that wasted talents like Ade and BAE. How many more points would we have had last season and this if they had been used properly? A manager’s job is surely to maximise the talent at his disposal and AVB clearly failed to do that. In the end it was just unacceptable.

  • ultrapunch says:

    “Sherwood’s an Arsenal fan – there’s no getting away from that.”

    Why is that important? Sherwood is an ambitious man whose job is in the football “industry”. It’s livelyhood, whereas it’s not yours. Who he supported as a kid will make not one iota of difference to his performance as Spurs manager. He is on over £1m a year as manager. Success will mean he will get a much fatter wage packet from Spurs, or from a bigger club than Spurs, in the future. He wont give a toss about Arsenal. Only blinkered illogical fans such as yourself think who Sherwood supported as a kid is relevant.

    Did Fergusson support Man Utd as a kid? Of course not!! He managed Man Utd because they are a massive club who could fulfill his ambitions and satisfy his BANK BALANCE!!

  • Ben says:

    What a great article. Thank you.
    I do enjoy your very insightful thoughts.
    Happy Xmas and COYS

  • Blake says:

    great job windy this is my favourite article of yours so far, the fact that Sherwood’s been so instrumental to our recent success with the youth setup is his biggest appeal. Personally I love the apparent swagger/arrogance from the guy. And I’ll be backing him all the way

  • Will says:

    I think the key take away from what you write, at least in terms of where AVB went wrong is “Given that Sherwood has to make things happen relatively quickly, he is likely to focus on keeping it simple, letting his side build their confidence.”

    I think this was a fatal flaw of AVB’s from the beginning of this season; namely, trying to get 9 new players to the first team to play a really complicated system instead of letting them gel *first* with a universally understood formation like 442. Once the players had got the hang of it and each other he could have introduced slowly other tactics.

  • Will says:

    One more thing, Windy… I couldn’t believe I didn’t recognize Bentaleb’s name when he came on the pitch. I rely on you to be my main man for whose-who in the youth squad and couldn’t ever remember you mentioning this guy 🙂 I jumped up from my chair and shouted “Windy never told me about him!” My wife replies, “Who on earth is Windy??”

  • Sam says:

    Excellent & brilliantly insightful analysis. Thankyou!

  • Joseph says:

    Very Insightful read.

  • Bannerspurs says:

    really good article.

    i think they’ve made the right appointment as it needed to be quick to at least try to attempt to get something from the season and at least we know we’ll see some exciting football – it gives levy a chance to stock over the summer. if sherwood does well then give him a longer contract but if it doesn’t work then someone else comes in without breaking the precious bank.

    the next couple of games are very winnable which should have everyone onside… even the muppets moaning about him being an arsenal fan as a young ‘un – who give a toss? he’s spent years at spurs now working for the best of the club??? perhaps he’s a long term sleeper mole…

  • arun says:

    When AVB was sacked some said he needed time & team needed time to gel.
    Even when players were fit, we never had Soldado, Lamela, Paulinho, Vlad, Vertonghen in same XI.
    How can team gel when they don’t play together.

    With Sherwood, certainly deserves a chance- from what I have seen he is instrumental in development of Rose, Caulker, Livermore, Carroll, Kane Andros & now Bentaleb.

    If he can make young players develop & massage the ego of Adebayor & get the best out of him, I ve no doubts he will get best out of team.

    What he needs is support & some luck going his way in the initial games.

  • Paul says:

    Refreshing to read this as opposed to comments made using 140 characters which conclude ‘he’s shit’ based on the fact ‘he has an Arsenal tattoo’ or because ‘he hasn’t even got his badges’.

    Very good, balanced article. Enjoyed the read.

  • Simon says:

    Brilliant article. Fans moan about managers to players to systems all the time we are never happy unless we are winning 5-0 every week, this doesn’t happen so we just need to support the 11 on the pitch and the people behind the signs!! Coys tfbtflw!!

  • irishspur83 says:

    Refreshing to read an article from someone who is familiar with tims work with the development squad rather than someone with an agenda (harry Hotspur). Hopefully it works out for him and we have him for years to come COYS and merry Christmas to you all. Roll on west brom.

  • Lord Croker says:

    Interesting article. It will be interesting to know his first 11 when all are fit.

  • Bar Stool Preacher says:

    Great insight Windy. Cheers fella. Who might we see soon from the youth squad? Both Bentaleb and Fredrick’s have shown they have something to offer. Have we seen the back of the “inverted winger”?

  • stinking pears says:

    Am I alone in thinking we (sherwood) made a pigs ear of our loans?

    Caulker’s worked, andros at qpr and the current Swindon ones too, but otherwise I’ve largely seen three years of great youth players warming the benches of teams who don’t suit them

    See

    Mason – lorient and many others
    Falque – Soton and current
    Kane – Norwich
    Smith – this season
    Carroll – Derby, qpr
    Townsend – most of them.
    Etc etc

    And is he also the genius who let Luongo and Mpoku go?

    I suppose two players brought through properly is nothing to sniff at, but this was our golden crop and most or all of the credit lies with inglethorpe, JMcD and CR

  • JD says:

    Good article Windy. You should share it with Jonathan Wilson. Wilson may be one of the best English language writers about football but when I read his article today where he seems to clean that Sherwood is an old school 4-4-2 guy I thought, it sure seems like Windy’s been describing the youth set up as 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1.

    I think AVB got over generalized as a modern technocratic manager and the new narrative will be Sherwood as the new ‘arry. You’re maybe in the best position to say what things could look like moving forward. This article does a great job of that. Thanks.

  • Sweetsman says:

    I think that you fail in your analysis to include one major factor that affected AVB from day one and which will not be an issue for TS: the media, especially the tabloid media. AVB had to plan with the loss of the major creative talent that is Modrić, who was not replaced with Moutinho for the sake of £0.5 million; he lost Sandro halfway through the season; and despite this he identified the need to fashion the team around his one major attacking force, Bale. Throughout all this, the media were circling like vultures and when they saw a chink they descended on him with outright lies, especially with Ashton and fatty Samuel. However, AVB’s remit was not just the first team, it was the whole club structure and this was apparently well thought of. He asked for an overhaul of the club’s medical team and this was not done. I want to know why, because I think they are very risk averse. This means that they are either very knowledgeable and are rightly cautious, or that they aren’t that good and therefore vacillate.
    I can imagine that TS would have also seized on any weakness and would have had Redknapp’s mates to back him as well provide him with the weapons to stab him in the back.
    In the end, AVB seems to have felt that he was not going to be backed. You say that you are disappointed that he didn’t bring through young players, but when you aren’t given space to breathe why would you risk results with them.
    I really hope the best for AVB, because he’s a decent and upstanding guy. I hope that in the World Cup England are humiliated and that careers are ruined, purely so that the tabloid press pack and all the little Englanders who were on AVB’s back have their hopes destroyed. If AVB comes back and stuffs Sherwood’s Spurs, I’ll wallow in the schadenfreude.

  • Sweetsman says:

    And another thing: if he goes 4-4-2 against any of the bigger clubs we’ll get slaughtered. Henry Winter said this the other night on The Monday Night Club, because we would come up against “more intelligent” teams. Yet, he thought it was OK, because he felt English managers should be given a chance. I hope he’s as effusive when the manager of his Arsenal steps down. On the same programme, Pleat made some idiotic points about the Europa League.

  • Gavan says:

    Thanks Windy

    First time I’ve come across your work. Really insightful.

    I personally am not fond of Sherwood and I dread him being Redschnapps Mk II and I despised ‘Arry.

    Your knowledge has given me a scintilla of hope that there’s more to Sherwood than management of our great club by Redschnapps by proxy.

    Here’s hoping….

    And I look forward to reading your next blog.

    COYS

  • […] I wrote in my ‘What a difference a week makes‘ article, though, there is a sense of continuity to the appointment of Sherwood, if nothing […]

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