When the current Premier League campaign draws to a close, Daniel Levy will find himself at a crossroads. Back in December, replacing a laughed-out-of-England Andre Villas-Boas, the Tottenham chief passed the managerial reins to then-youth coach Tim Sherwood, subsequently handing the ex-Lilywhites midfielder an 18 month contract.
That length of contract appears to be out of politeness more than anything else. Even at the time, I’m sure Sherwood knew the ultimate aim of his tenure was to steady the ship ahead of a more coveted managerial arrival at the end of the season.
The leading candidate, then and now, remains current Netherlands coach Louis Van Gaal, a manager who has claimed Eredivisie, Bundesliga, La Liga and Champions League titles before, and has made no secret of his desire to work in England after the World Cup in Brazil.
But Sherwood’s performance in the Lilywhites dugout has surprised many for a head coach previously unblooded at any level of the game. So with Van Gaal an option but the former England international continuing to impress, it’s now a question of whether Levy should stick or twist. In other words, has the current Spurs boss done enough to deserve another season in the job?
Tottenham’s planned revival under Tim Sherwood back into the Premier League’s top four hasn’t quite taken place, but in comparison to the AVB days, the former midfielder’s appointment has instigated a drastic turnaround in form.
Under the Portuguese’s leadership, the North London side were averaging less than a goal per game, and suffered humiliating defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool – two clubs the Lilywhites were expected to be competing with for league standing back in the summer.
In sharp contrast, Tottenham have dropped just eight points out of a possible 33 since the 45 year-old took the Lane hot seat, and most importantly, they’ve netted 21 times in eleven Premier League fixtures.
More than the results, it’s Sherwood’s insistence on entertaining the Tottenham faithful that’s been most pleasing and refreshing, in comparison to their testimonial-paced, chess-like manner of performance under his predecessor, which was some how, paradoxically blamed on the Spurs supporters.
A worryingly alienating and departmental 4-3-3 system has been replaced with a more Premier League-traditional 4-4-2, and although many felt that demonstrated Sherwood’s tactical naivety, it has produced far more dynamically charismatic side to Tottenham. In short, Sherwood has provided Spurs with the personality and identity they disturbingly lacked at the start of the season.
Furthermore, there have been plenty of side-stories that have given us an insight into what kind of manager Sherwood is. With one of his first actions as Tottenham boss being to promote budding youngster Nabil Bentaleb to the first team – ignoring the pressures of £9million summer signing Etienne Capoue’s calls for regular football– the Tottenham boss clearly has an eye for good player.
The 19 year-old has since made seven Premier League starts, playing important roles in wins over Crystal Palace, Swansea, Everton and Newcastle. He’s by no means the finished article, but has all the makings of a talented defensive midfielder.
Similarly, Sherwood saw fit to reach out to Emmanuel Adebayor, who had been demoted to the development squad and completely alienated by the previous regime – presumably due to the Togo international refusing to leave White Hart Lane back in the summer.
But seeing past the merky shroud Villas-Boas had surrounded him with, and the regular haranguing of Adebayor in the British press, the Spurs manager had enough self-belief to make up his own mind on the striker – whom, for all his negative stigmatism, dons a Premier League record of 91 goals in 208 appearances, and is probably the most talented front-man on the White Hart Lane roster.
Mercurial or not, the former Arsenal and City star has repaid Sherwood’s faith. His eight goals and two assists in 12 league appearances under the new boss has left Adebayor as the club’s top scorer, in the absence of form from Roberto Soldado and Jermain Defoe, and Sherwood deserves full credit for the Togo striker’s miraculous revival.
But lingering concerns remain over Sherwood’s credentials and his ability to get Tottenham back into the top four – he may have steadied a sinking ship at White Hart Lane, but Champions League qualification was the ultimate motivation for Daniel Levy to spend £110million on new recruits in the summer, and it will undoubtedly be at the forefront of the agenda next season.
Admittedly, the Spurs gaffer’s tactical gullibility has to come into question. Tottenham’s 2-0 FA Cup defeat to Arsenal was a steep learning curve for Sherwood; sticking to his tried-and-tested 4-4-2 formation, the Lilywhites were swiftly picked apart by a technically-gifted Gunners midfield and a free-roaming, penetrating attack. From the announcement of the team sheets in the early afternoon, it was clear that philosophical flaws would go on to dictate the derby’s outcome.
Sherwood has shown tactical variation since, most recently deploying a 4-3-3, but naivety struck again last week when Tottenham came away from a heated tie in Ukraine with a 1-0 deficit to Dnipro. One has to consider whether a more experienced manager, particularly on the European scene, like Van Gaal, could have masterminded a better result.
Similarly, although through no particular fault of his own, Levy will be concerned that his manager is still yet to get the best out of Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela – the two most expensive signings in the club’s history. Once again, Sherwood had no part in signing these players and should certainly not be held to rights over their poor form.
But under his first team leadership, the goals for the Spaniard have become even more of a rarity, and club record-signing Lamela appears to have slumped even further down the White Hart Lane pecking order. Could a manager of greater experience with top players have provided a solution to their stale form by now? That’s not an accusation, just something the Spurs chairman will have to bear in mind – after all, that’s £56million’s worth of investment on the line, and if Tottenham are to qualify for the Champions League next season both will need to contribute significantly.
That being said, the Tottenham hot seat has taken a literal meaning under the chairmanship of Daniel Levy – so roasting that no manager has been able to remain seated for too long – and regardless of Champions League qualification next season, one feels Spurs are in need of a period of stability that also brings the club back to its English roots, following a summer in which £110million was spent on nine players that hadn’t set foot in the Premier League before.
But you get the feeling Levy won’t see it that way. Tottenham’s Champions League push has been shelved this season, and with so much money on the line it’s unlikely he’ll be willing to wait another year. Furthermore, Levy’s next appointment has to be the correct one – since he took charge at White Hart Lane, despite the club gravitating towards the more glamorous end of the Premier League table, his managerial hirings have been surprisingly hot and cold.
With that in mind, a b-line for the tried, tested and decorated Van Gaal seems inevitable in the summer – Tottenham’s impatience with Europe will undoubtedly get the better of them once again. But should Levy be unable to tempt the Dutchman, Tim Sherwood is certainly an impressive contingency plan.