Tim Sherwood’s potential failure would create a necessary precedent


At the time of writing, Tim Sherwood has not won a Premier League game since the opening day of the season. October is no time to be making definitive conclusions, but with Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Southampton all on the horizon, it would be miraculous if - on current form - the side do not find themselves at the foot of the table come November.

Sherwood attracts schadenfreude.  He shouts his successes from the rooftops and explains away his failures with empty rhetoric and, should he ultimately fail at Villa Park, there is a lengthy queue ready and waiting to dance on his grave.

Still, it’s not in any way contrived to suggest that he is actually in trouble.  Even with the coaching support of Ray Wilkins and, initially, Kevin MacDonald, his teams have frequently appeared naive this season and, rather than being an improvement on the Paul Lambert era, the Sherwood reign currently just looks like a different type of underperformance.  Lambert coached as if he was terrified of what might happen if his players crossed the halfway line, whereas Sherwood’s tactical style is akin to watching someone skip gleefully through a minefield.

Maybe there’s an upturn coming in the near future and maybe this appointment will prove to be successful in two or three years time - maybe - but for now that seems unlikely and it’s more realistic to assume that the last six months will prove Aston Villa’s reasons for appointing Sherwood to have been rather flimsy.

And, while not saying that those Villa supporters are deserving of any more failure, maybe that’s for the best?

Tim Sherwood is symbolic of something which has afflicted English football for a long time.  He is an ex-player who has learnt to work the room very well and it’s that, rather than his CV, which has allowed him to manager two Premier League sides within a year.

Forget what you know about Sherwood as a person and consider him on a purely superficial basis: An academy coach with no prior first-team experience who was, by circumstance, jumped right to the front of the employment line irrespective of his credentials or experience.

In the real world, that would be appalling.  He hasn’t needed to serve his time at a lower level of the game and he hasn’t been required to demonstrate any real proficiency, he has simply been allowed to talk himself to the front of the queue. Newspaper columns and an over-focus on a very brief firefighting tenure at White Hart Lane have been enough to convince one of the biggest clubs in the country to place their short-term destiny in his hands.

Worse still, West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers were, given the chance, eager to make the same appointment.

This isn’t a new complaint and Tim Sherwood is hardly the first to benefit from over-promotion, but surely we must be approaching the point of realisation with this outmoded form of recruitment?  There must, logically, be a moment of upcoming clarity in which club chairmen and directors of football step back from the alter of personality and respect proven attributes rather than just the ability to shout the loudest.

The Villa situation is not unambiguous.  Christian Benteke was an enormously influential player and a key part of the club’s survival in 2014/15.  His departure was obviously going to create difficulties.  Similarly, signing younger, less experienced players over the Summer was always likely to carry a risk and Sherwood can legitimately point to that in his defence.

But Sherwood already does a lot of that.  A lot of pointing; a lot of deflecting; a lot of self-mitigating.

His time at Tottenham was curious.  He can’t be blamed for accepting a job he probably wasn’t qualified to hold because who amongst us would?  Regardless, it’s still baffling that so many of his shown shortcomings were ignored after leaving White Hart Lane.  His chaotic midfield-building, his formulaic game-plans, his over-reliance on individual players and his constant, reckless deference to attacking football over defensive security were all overshadowed by a cosmetically impressive win-percentage.

Those who questioned his substance were generally belittled and Daniel Levy was derided for not giving this supposed bright young (46!) English thing a “proper chance”.  It’s an interesting contradiction then that, while it’s widely accepted that he wasn’t given that proper chance at Tottenham, he had supposedly put enough on tape to demand another opportunity at Premier League level.

It’s a flagrant contradiction, yet one which was swept under the carpet during the rush to lobby for this man who talks so very much.

“Have you won anything?  Have you shown an aptitude for team-building and for guiding a club from one point to another?”

“No, but I’ve got a column in The Independent and I do talk a very good game.”

English football needs to grow up - or, at the very least, it needs to grow into an actual meritocracy at managerial level. The game in this country has many issues - and many of those exist far beneath surface level - but preventing the natural migration of capable coaches up the food chain is still a significant problem.  Eddie Howe is only now in the Premier League because he oversaw a two-division quantum leap at Bournemouth, Alex Neil because he was able to promote Norwich, and Tony Pulis has only be allowed to establish his relegation-proof reputation in the top-flight because he forged his own path into it.

Irrespective of anyone’s views of those three or the teams they have or continue to manage, they have unquestionably had to earn their chance - and all three have and are continuing to show themselves to be more rounded coaches as a consequence.

That’s not only how the process should work, but it’s also - with sympathy to Aston Villa - why the righteous position is the one which craves Tim Sherwood’s failure.  He is emblematic of an irritating, lingering habit which needs to be rendered extinct through precedent.