The beautiful thing about the beautiful game is that there’s no specific single way to approach a match. Certain situations require certain manoeuvres, while thrown into the mix is the element of luck or chance, making for a real melting pot when the ball and 22 men are on the pitch. And while the players are widely seen as the biggest influencers, the managers on the touchline are, perhaps, those who have the largest power of all.
Just like footballers, coaches have very different personalities, strengths and weaknesses. While many would suggest that Pep Guardiola’s pure football philosophy is the best way to approach matters, Tony Pulis, and others at the opposite end of the spectrum, garner results their own way. Would ‘Pep’ have been able to cement Stoke as a Premier League team with his approach and the players at the Britannia Stadium? Probably not.
Although the aforementioned pair are very much the ‘chalk and cheese examples’ this evening’s match up between Manchester United’s Louis van Gaal and Aston Villa’s Tim Sherwood raises some similar points. ‘Tactics Tim’, as he’s been dubbed by some, and LVG are fairly different in terms of approach and reputation, with the former often ridiculed for his gilet-flailing on the touchline, while the latter is celebrated as one of the few tactical revolutionaries of the modern era – he was responsible for one of the greatest Ajax teams ever seen.
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Let’s start with Sherwood. Underneath the bravado and ‘geezer’ persona, there does beat the heart of a proper football manager. He may seem a bit slapdash, but there’s more to a Sherwood side than ‘up and at ‘em’ play and passion, as illustrated both at the back end of last season and during his spell with Spurs – his two jobs in the top tier thus far. Starting with Spurs, the 46-year-old actually enjoyed a successful time at the helm of the White Hart Lane outfit, with his 59% win ratio truly second to none…
His famous utterance has formed the foundation of plenty of jokes, but such a record coming in following Andre Villas-Boas botched start to 2013/14 was mightily impressive – with his much-talked about ratio the best of any Tottenham Premier League manager with over 10 games to their name.
Moving on to Villa, and Sherwood showed his genius again. The Villans were a blunt force until his arrival, but over the back end of last term Sherwood fed goals into the team and revived the fortunes of Christian Benteke to the point that his sale generated over £30m of income last month. The Midlanders were pulled clear of the relegation zone with a mix of exuberant football and new-found confidence, and although their FA Cup Final performance was limp to say the least, getting there was a massive achievement. Not quite the joke he may seem to be…
Now we have Van Gaal to look at. With a CV containing Barcelona, Ajax, Bayern Munich and the Netherlands, there is no denying LVG’s credentials. During his formative years he helped with the total football philosophy being bred at Ajax, blooding youngsters such as Clarence Seedorf while winning the Champions League in 1995.
After moving on he scooped silverware in Spain and Germany, before taking over at Manchester United – one of the most difficult jobs in football. And the task facing Van Gaal has been just that at Old Trafford, with the club’s squad littered with inadequate players upon his arrival following Sir Alex Ferguson’s exit and the botched season under David Moyes.
Although they limped over the line to the minimum requirement of Champions League qualification last term, getting there was the aim, and when the neat football Van Gaal is associated with clicked in during the run-in, United were quite impressive – their win at Anfield was a significant moment. Yes, he’s had the money to invest, but in reviving players such as Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini it’s clear to see that he hasn’t relied upon the vast financial muscle the Red Devils possess.
It’s hard to compare Van Gaal and Sherwood directly in terms of ‘football genius’, with their careers very different and approaches, again, dissimilar. Although somewhat a cop out, the pair are both clever and astute managers in their own way, with Van Gaal’s proven record and ego making him a formidable enemy, while Sherwood’s air of ineptitude is actually an intelligent bluff. Of the pair one would have to side with LVG on the whole, but should Villa get an unlikely win this evening, the ‘Sherwood bandwagon’ may be getting a few more passengers.