Tottenham Hotspur manager Tim Sherwood is a fascinating case study in the life of a top-flight coach.
Brought forward from relative quietness behind the scenes to replace Andre Villas-Boas in December, his first senior management job has already featured a number of highs and lows in less than three months.
The football world keeps turning for Sherwood and men of his ilk. They do not concern themselves with rumours and speculation (at least on the surface), just the next match and all that entails in between.
Compared to dealing with the ramifications of Tottenham's 4-0 loss to Chelsea on Saturday, continued talk of Louis van Gaal replacing him this summer will mean little to Sherwood right now.
Yet, if media speculation is to be believed, the White Hart Lane job is the Dutchman's if he wants it. ESPN FC's Miguel Delaney reported last month:
CaughtOffside.com's Bernard Thompson went one further earlier this week, claiming a deal between the two parties had already been agreed. With Dave Kidd of the Mirror previously speculating on possible interest from Manchester United in hiring van Gaal as a replacement for David Moyes, it is likely rumours about van Gaal will persist a while yet.
If legitimate, Spurs' interest in appointing the current Netherlands manager is understandable.
Van Gaal was the last manager to win the Champions League with Ajax. His success since then—with Barcelona, AZ Alkmaar and Bayern Munich—has more than backed up the credentials established coaching an extraordinary group of players in Amsterdam.
With the 65-year-old seeking a return to club football after this summer's World Cup, there is logic to the link. Spurs are not Barca or Bayern, but their history, current reasonably healthy state and overall underachievement in recent years combine for a challenge that would be among the most exciting of van Gaal's career.
Going by what he said last month—quoted by the Guardian's Dominic Fifield, among others—he might be open to it:
I don't know where I will go next. Normally I go with my pension, and go to live in Portugal [where van Gaal owns a property], but maybe there will come a new challenge. I have said before that a challenge should be a club in the Premier League. That's a challenge. Maybe Tottenham are coming but, first, we have to go to Brazil.
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy told the club's official website in December he believed Sherwood would "bring out the best in" the players "and allow them to flourish and enjoy a strong, exciting finish to the season."
Levy also described him as having "both the knowledge and the drive to take the squad forward." Despite the kind words and implied hope of a successful appointment, the experience of Sherwood's predecessors all but backs up the notion it is top four or bust (albeit with a little wiggle room, especially in the case of Europa League success).
The Chelsea loss has lessened fifth-placed Spurs' chances of making next season's Champions League. This weekend's North London derby is certainly must win.
Sherwood's comments to Sky Sports' Geoff Shreeves (see video below) following Saturday's defeat suggested his own belief that the Spurs hierarchy's expectations do not match the reality of the club's current situation.
He questioned the realism of Spurs finishing among the Champions League places while they are unable to "beat the top teams." More intriguing, though, was Sherwood's criticism of his players' character:
Too many of them are too nice with each other. Need to show a bit more gut and not want to be someone’s mate all the time. It can’t always be me having a pop at them, they need to drag it out of each other... There’s a few I’d count on, a few I wouldn’t.
Perhaps it was not Sherwood's intent to speak about a dissatisfaction with the logic and thinking that had assembled the current group of players. Inadvertent or not, that was the conclusion he appeared to come to; a by-product of the relatively frequent overhauls the club have engineered in moving between Martin Jol and Juande Ramos, from Harry Redknapp to Villas-Boas and now Sherwood.
In the ESPN FC article mentioned earlier, Delaney wrote of van Gaal: "There is also a sense that his background and style of management could allow Spurs to instil a deeper footballing philosophy throughout the club, something that has been of increasing interest to chief executive Daniel Levy."
In this regard, a major issue with van Gaal coming is that Spurs would be starting over again. The veteran's experience and talent as a coach might outweigh Sherwood's familiarity with the North London club, but the latter should not be overlooked.
Some have questioned Sherwood's strategy and style, but what is not up for debate is the thought the former technical director has already given the job. He told Sam Wallace of the Independent during his brief caretaker stint:
I know the players we have got here and I know the good young talent that is coming through the club. It’s up to the club. I need to talk about philosophies. What are we looking to do? Are we looking to buy players or are we looking to bring them through. All this has to be taken into consideration when I decide whether it is right for me or not.
Levy and the Tottenham board handed Sherwood an 18-month contract upon hiring him. Not long enough to tie them down to any weighty financial obligations in the event of him not working out but enough where it did hint at optimism that things could work.
Sherwood is not shy in voicing his opinion. He obviously impressed Levy enough for him to get this opportunity. Nobody should discount the possibility his vision might—and who knows, perhaps has already—convince the men in charge his is the way forward.
But in the looming presence of van Gaal, Spurs have maybe pinpointed the man around whom the grass may be greener.
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