Imagine, for a moment, that I have built a time machine. It’s pretty limited – the technology is somewhat limited at the moment – in that it only has a range of four months, but it does at least allow me to go back to the start of the football season and make absurd-sounding predictions on these pages which turn out to come true. At the top of the list of predictions that I could conceivably make, a Nostradamus-like moment that would later see me burned at the stake as a confirmed heretic, would go something like this: “In December 2013, Andre Villa Boas departs as the manager of Tottenham Hotspur following a six-nil loss at Manchester City and a five-nil home defeat at the hands of Liverpool. In a surprise move, chairman Daniel Levy appoints former captain Tim Sherwood as his replacement on an eighteen month contract.”
The removal of the previous incumbent probably couldn’t have come at a much worse time in terms of the managerial market. It’s not a time of year when the sort of manager that a club with the profile and – especially, considering the amount of money thrown around I’m the vicinity of the club during the summer and the lingering suspicion that the top end of the Premier League is as open as it has been for many years, which gives clubs like Spurs a more than reasonable opportunity – expectations that this one carries at the moment are freely available. Supporters of the club, however, may well have been surprised at the speed with which the club has moved to find the previous manager’s successor. And on top of that, the identity of that successor may be just about the only thing that might have come as an even greater surprise than this.
What we know about Tim Sherwood the manager is fairly scant on detail. We know that he doesn’t have any previous managerial experience, that he holds the basic Uefa coaching badges but not a Pro Licence, and that he prefers his football to be played the traditional way. It is to be presumed that chairman Daniel Levy has seen something in Sherwood that the rest of the world has not, because not only has this surprise appointment been made, but it hasn’t even been made in the manner that we might have expected. There will be no interim period for Sherwood, no chance to prove himself before the end of this season. The new manager has won himself am eighteen month long contract at the club, which would – in theory, at least – see him through to the end of next season. In other words, if Sherwood does work out in this position, Levy will presumably be looking to persuade the manager to extend his contract. If the rest of his season, doesn’t, however, the chairman will at best be paying off the final twelve of those eighteen months.
Sherwood’s two matches in charge of the team so far have been as mixed s bag as has been offered at any other point so far this season at White Hart Lane. The home defeat against West Ham United was as lackadaisical as anything else that Spurs have managed so far this season, but last week’s win at Southampton was a little more cohesive, a reminder if one were needed, of the narrow margins between victory and defeat in modern football. A home match against West Bromwich Albion on Boxing Day will be expected to bring three points, but an FA Cup Third Round match at Arsenal at the start of next year with provide as big a challenge as it’s possible to imagine for Spurs at this stage of this competition. Supporters may have relegated winning the FA Cup to somewhere near the bottom of their list of priorities, but beating local rivals remains as important as ever. The manager might point to finding his feet over the next few weeks. This isn’t an excuse that the man who appointed him will be able to use, though.
All of this leads us to the conclusion that this might well be a considerably greater risk for Levy than it is for Sherwood. The chairman was praised during the summer for the way in which the held out to the last possible moment in the summer long game of brinkmanship that was the protracted sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, but nobody in professional football is indispensable and many Spurs supporters may well be questioning his judgement over this decision. Spurs started the season with clear aspirations of reaching the honey pot that is the Champions League, and those are hardly in tatters at the time of writing, with the club only four points from fourth place in the table. Having said that, however, there is a valid question to be asked regarding what the club’s expectations currently are for the remainder of the season. What targets has Sherwood been given? Will his continuing employment at the club depend upon Spurs qualifying for next year’s Champions League? Or will any finish in the top seven or eight in the table be considered acceptable this season? The supporters of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club will find out, sooner or later. In the meantime, I’m still working on that time machine. If I can get it working, I might just go back in time and make Bill Nicholson an offer that he can’t refuse.
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