December 24, 2013
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.
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.
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.