Openly criticising players in public has become a Premier League taboo, but following a disappointing 4-0 defeat to Chelsea two weekends ago, Tim Sherwood unleashed a ferocious analysis of his Tottenham squad on live television that left little room for the feint-hearted.
In a surprisingly emotional display, the Spurs gaffer told the Sky Sports studio; “(It happens) too often, too often and again today against the big sides. It’s disappointing to see.You’re 2-0 down with 10 men at Chelsea, you’re not going to win the game. But I expect to see a little more gut, a little bit more pride, a little bit more feather rustling. I don’t want to be the only one who ever shouts at them. I think they need to dig each other out every now and again and get the best out of each other.”
In this modern era of soft gloves and foreign players with big egos, many have backed Sherwood for the bold, refreshing and aggressive approach he took two weekends ago. A lot of what he said will certainly ring true with the White Hart Lane faithful, who have seen their side capitulate against big clubs they’re supposed to be competing with numerous times already this season. Their 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool in December cost Andre Villas-Boas his job.
But as refreshingly passionate as Sherwood’s speech may have been, let’s not kid ourselves that it was sourced from anything else than managerial naivety. It’s the type of unbalanced, unchecked and poorly-thought outburst you’d expect from a gaffer that’s been in the management game for a matter of months, unable to keep his cool after what was Tottenham’s worst performance under his leadership.
Perhaps, considering the intensity of the situation, that can be forgiven. But it was the timing of this public slamming that spoke volumes about the Spurs boss’s disturbing inexperience.
Let’s reconstruct that disappointing four-goal thumping at Stamford Bridge. Tottenham’s backline can be held at fault for all four goals, as Jamie Redknapp was quick to point out in the Sky Sports studio.
Under Sherwood’s tactical guidance however, Spurs started the match with Kyle Walker on the right wing and Aaron Lennon as a shadow striker. For the first 45 minutes it did the job, yet at no point in the first half did Chelsea’s goal come under any considerable threat, and with that in mind, it was always a case of how many goals the Blues would eventually win by rather than the result ever being in doubt. From Jose Mourinho’s perspective, he was always waiting for the Lilywhites to make the first mistake, although he probably didn’t anticipate they’d make four so costly.
The Lane gaffer didn’t instigate the defensive implosion, and in that regard, he has a right to be annoyed at the long list of individual errors you wouldn’t expect from a side challenging for Champions League qualification. But he sent Tottenham out working to a tactical formula that would never have resulted in a win – a scoreless draw was the best the Lilywhites could have hoped from that starting line-up – yet Sherwood failed to mention any of his own misgivings in an almost taboo post-match outburst.
Rather, everything was directed at the players. Usually, managers use the term ‘we’, as if to imply mistakes were made as a group, even if that may not be the case. Even this custom was bypassed by Sherwood, instead accusing his roster of a ‘lack of characters’ and his players of not showing enough gut and pride.
But when it comes to psychological baiting, especially of your own players, timing is everything. And rather naively, Sherwood’s was some way off the mark. If this public name and shame had come following a poor defeat to one of the Premier League’s more rank and file sides, or Liverpool for example, it would be completely understandable.
Rather, it came against a Chelsea outfit who currently don pole position in the English top flight, overseen by a manager who has never lost a league game in 67 outings at Stamford Bridge, in an away fixture that Tottenham haven’t won since Gary Lineker was their star striker. The result was disappointing and the performance disturbing, but a wealth of factors suggested the Blues had three points in the bag from the opening whistle. As Sherwood himself subliminally suggested, perhaps Tottenham as a club expect far too much.
Furthermore, the outcry came ahead of what was undoubtedly the most defining week of Tottenham’s season. The following Thursday, Spurs took on Benfica in Europe, and the home leg result would have vital significance to Tottenham’s continuation in the Europa League, whilst on Sunday they took on Arsenal in the second North London derby of their Premiership campaign after losing the first bragging rights clash in September.
Sherwood clearly thought that publicly announcing the entire squad were now ‘playing for their futures’, further remarking that he was ‘singing from the heart, not from the script’, would give them the kick up the backside required to turn their form around.
But in fact, the reverse has taken place. Against Benfica, Tottenham were outclassed by a Champions League standard defence in a 3-1 defeat, in turn highlighting the inadequacies of their own from the weekend previous, and facing their local rivals, Arsenal’s better quality on the ball told as the Lilywhites were reduced to a hit-and-hope, route one strategy going forward, before eventually losing 1-0.
It’s easy to criticise a manager when his plans, or in this case, his attempts at motivation, have backfired in terms of results. It’s worth reminding that Spurs were probably the better side against Arsenal at the weekend, controlling the game and the ball for a good eighty minutes.
But Jose Mourinho has never entered a press conference without meticulously planning every detail and every controversial remark first. Sherwood on the other hand, in his own words, ‘sings from the heart’.
Had the Tottenham novice held his tongue, stepped back and considered the larger picture, perhaps he would have realised that adding to the scrutiny of a Spurs roster already absent in confidence after an incredibly heavy defeat of their own doing, would only further hinder the situation. It’s certainly increased the limelight on the Lilywhites over the last week, which can’t have made attempted revivals in form particularly easier.
Until recently, Sherwood was making a decent case for himself to continue his Tottenham tenure for at least another season. But with his naivety in the dug-out becoming more noticeable with every heavyweight contest the Lilywhites are involved in, Daniel Levy will surely feel compelled to turn his attentions to the far more experienced Louis Van Gaal this summer.
It’s not Sherwood’s fault – he never asked to be appointed Spurs boss when Villas-Boas got the axe. But the fact remains, in the grand scheme of Premier League management, he is still nothing more than a rank amateur.