Sherwood Appointment Gives New Life to Old English Virtues

Daniel Levy’s decision to give Tim Sherwood the Tottenham Hotspur job isn’t a managerial appointment, it’s a cultural revolution. It’s an uprising. It’s all of the frustrated souls in English football, bored to tears with chalkboards, raising their faces to the skies and crying out in one, rasping voice, “Four four f**ing two!”

Sherwood, of course, is not Mike Bassett. He has almost the full set of coaching badges (work will begin on the UEFA Pro Licence in 2014) and he has a lifetime of experience in the game to draw on. Nevertheless, he is a dramatic shift from the tactical micro-management of Andre Villas-Boas. From what we’ve seen in his two games so far, there’s little chance that we’ll see him on his haunches on the touchline, trying to usher his fullbacks forward by a critical six inches. There will, however, be an awful lot of swearing.

There’s something of the Essex electrician about Sherwood. He looks like a man who gets up at the crack of dawn and expects you to get up at the crack of dawn too. He looks like he expects two sugars in his tea, no slacking and none of that silly modern music in the van on the way home. If you don’t get the gist of his instructions when he talks to you, he will shout at you until comprehension smashes its way through your window panes.

Those instructions don’t appear to be particularly complicated so far. He likes a back four to be a back four. He plays two wingers, directs everything onto the flanks and wants crosses in the box. He has two midfielders, an attacking one and defending one. He has two strikers, a big one and a little one. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear that his presence in our game had been caused by a lightning bolt hitting a 1988 Ford Escort and setting off the flux capacitor.

All of which makes it very easy to sneer. Here we have one of the last of a breed of footballers who could be called working class. He didn’t spend his formative years in an academy, he didn’t have stardust blown up his bottom by an agent at the age of 12, he didn’t even enter the game at a time when it was considered a profitable occupation. When he started out in the 1980s, even for the majority of top flight players, football was a job that might allow you to buy your own home, or set something aside to fund a business in the future. It wasn’t the lottery win that even a single Premier League contract is now. Sherwood is of a time when you had to work as hard as you could because a poor run of form or a nasty injury might prove devastating.

He is a shouter, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Footballers are young men who were pulled out of school early. While there are many of their number who are intelligent and enthusiastic students of the game, the majority prefer to while away tiresome tactical meetings by scratching themselves. As Harry Redknapp has repeatedly proved, keeping it simple can often be the best option.

And as for his tactics, maybe they’re not as daft as they look. Modern tactics develop as reactions to prior developments. Southampton, for example, are told to press high up the pitch to prevent teams from dominating possession with glacially slow short passes. When faced against Sherwood’s quickfire, get-it-out-to-the-flanks Tottenham, they struggled, like MIG-29s trying to get a missile-lock on a Spitfire. It’s going to take time for the other teams to remember how to combat this sort of football, and in that time Sherwood will make his own developments.

On the balance of probability, given the impatience at the club, the ruthlessness of Levy and the nagging suspicion that such a short term contract indicates the existence of a long-term managerial target, you’d guess that this will end in tears. But Sherwood won’t believe that. And it will be fascinating to watch him try to prove us wrong.

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