The merits of a manager publicly criticising his own players are always questionable. The idea of management itself suggests responsibility. You tell a group of people what to do, and assuming they at least attempt to do it, the results of their actions reflect on your orders.
Players know this. Their job is to do as the manager says. They may play badly one week, and well the next, but once they’ve followed the instructions of their manager, they cannot be held accountable for the team’s overall success or failure.
So when a team loses, and a manager openly attributes the failure to his players, it always feels like it has the potential for disaster. Either the manager knows something we don’t know, or is acting out of desperation. With Tim Sherwood, it feels unfortunately like a lot more of the latter.
The funny thing is, Tim Sherwood was right to believe that his players were to blame for their recent 4-0 defeat to Chelsea. The first goal part defensive slip, part high-risk back-pass. The second was a clumsy penalty conceded. The third an even more embarrassing slip than the first. And the fourth an attempted header back to the goalkeeper gone wrong.
Up until Tottenham went behind, they’d actually played quite well. The team was well organised and limited the home team to very few chances for almost an hour. So it’s understandable that Sherwood would feel his players, and not himself, were to blame.
However, what made Tim Sherwood’s comments so strange was that he did not blame bad luck, or a lack of skill, or lapses in concentration, or anything at all that seemed relevant to the manner of his team’s defeat. Instead, the manager attacked his team’s character.
“Lack of characters,” was Sherwood’s assessment. “Too many of them [are] too nice to each other. You need to show a bit more guts and not want to be someone’s mate all the time. They need to drag it out of each other”.
These feel like the ill-considered comments of desperate man rather than a premeditated piece of oratory made in order to garner a reaction from his troops. But then that’s just how Tim is; or at least how he’d like to be seen. He ‘wears his heart on his sleeve’. He ‘shoots from the hip’.
Sherwood’s promotion of these personal traits is as much in boast as it is in order to highlight what he perceives to be falsehoods in the game. And again, Sherwood is right to see falsity as a major part of the modern football. Unfortunately, it would seem that telling a certain amount of non-truths is now necessary practice for any good football manager.
Ferguson was a good manager; a good manager who liked to criticise his players. Such was the Scot’s penchant for a rollicking that it had it’s own metaphor attached to it. “Expect the Man United players to be getting the ‘hairdryer treatment’ at half-time,” we were regularly told.
However, the difference between Ferguson and Sherwood was that the Manchester United manager knew that the hairdryer’s rightful place lay in the dressing room. He never took it out in public. The public was where you criticised everything else; the referee, the pitch, the opposition, the media, the FA, the nature of modern celebrity, whatever you wanted. But not the players.
There was no point anyway. They’d already know all about if they’s done wrong. Why bother telling anyone else?
This policy helped forge the ‘us and them’ dynamic that Ferguson used so well to his advantage. It’s also a much safer strategy than airing your grievances in public. Modern footballers are aware of the dispensability of managers and their personal value to the club. If they’re constantly been hung out to dry by their own manager, where’s the incentive to play for him?
It’s hard not to feel that Sherwood would be better advised to pre-plan his media encounters than continue with his word vomit approach. However, even this in itself feels like an act.
Tim Sherwood has done well to paint himself as the no-nonsense Englishman here to defend common decency against the tyranny of lies that have infiltrated the beautiful game. But such is his vehemence of insistence on this that it has crossed the line into caricature.
If Sherwood is going to put on an act, he’d be better following everyone else’s lead and lie about what he thought of his players in public. It may be false, but it’s not exactly all truth coming out of White Hart Lane either.