The worst kept secret in football was finally let out of the bag today, and Tim Sherwood was removed as Tottenham’s manager by Daniel Levy.
The reasons for Sherwood’s removal have been discussed at length on this site over recent weeks and so there’s really no reason to revisit them, but what is worth comment is the reaction Spurs’ announcement has provoked. The vast majority understand the reasoning and accept that Sherwood afforded the club little reason for future optimism but another, smaller group are still clinging to win percentages and intangibles as a means to oppose the sacking.
Look carefully at those two groups and take note of what kind of people are in them: the anti-lobby comprises the majority of Tottenham fans and those neutrals with a rational take on the game, and Sherwood’s support networks appears to consist primarily of ex-players, tabloid journalists and those who buy into the accepted conventions of English football.
Accepted norms like ‘if a manager is given time he will always succeed eventually’, and ‘ex-players are always well-suited to management positions’. Those accepted norms: the cornerstone lies of domestic football.
Why is it that the game in this country can become so developed yet simultaneously so amateur? The Premier League has the most lucrative broadcasting rights in club football and the competition has an audience which is the envy of every other league in the world, yet decisions which alter its fabric are still undertaken in a way that would make a local council blush.
“Oh, Tim’s been here for a while, he knows the building, understands how the petty cash works…we can’t find anybody else, so let him have a go.”
A simplification, obviously, but that was the root logic with which Daniel Levy appointed Tim Sherwood in the first place. No qualifications, no experience, no worries - here are the keys to one of the most valuable sporting properties in Europe.
It’s not even really Levy’s fault, because there are dozens and dozens of other chairmen and owners who think in exactly the same way. In fact, all the way through English football there’s a belief that ex-players are always the right candidates for jobs - whatever the job - and they are in some way owed a living in the game beyond their retirement. Played the game? Be a pundit. Played the game? Here’s a newspaper column. Played the game? Here’s a radio phone-in. Played the game? Manage a club.
Sure, experienced players who learn their trade and develop supplementary skills beyond the pitch have value, but we have got to start recognising the flaws in some of these people and not allowing fame they acquired ten years ago to count for more than it should in the present day. A lot of these people are extremely wealthy and have the financial capability to retrain in any capacity they desire, and yet they are the ones for whom we make the exceptions; don’t worry about coaching qualifications, broadcasting training, elocution lessons, you’ve ‘played the game at the highest level’.
Greg Dyke wasted his time with his investigation into the viability of ‘B leagues’, he should have focused his resources on purging the game of its ‘jobs for the boys’ culture.
When Tim Sherwood was appointed at Tottenham, there were actually those who - in all seriousness - thought he’d be successful on the basis that he’d captained Blackburn to the Premier League title. Walk me through that - how is it relevant? Managing a football team and playing for one are too very, very different occupations. I write a lot of articles about football and I have done so for quite a while now, but that doesn’t make me qualified to edit The Times or produce Match Of The Day - I don’t have the required skills, and I would doubtless do a poor job in either occupation.
It seems obvious, but the same logic doesn’t seem to apply in football. If you’re an ex-player you’re capable of anything, apparently, and in every corner of the domestic game there is an ex-player doing a job for which he’s not really qualified.
We deal in intangibles: passion, knowing the club, being a proper football man - i.e. things which don’t really mean anything - and Tim Sherwood’s tenure at Spurs was just a product of those fallacies.
Latest article for Squawka: Missing piece: Aaron Ramsey’s return to the Arsenal side