These days, the unexpected sacking of a manager tends to prompt a flurry of barely legible Twitter reactions from the players he’s left behind.
The modern day footballer seems instinctively compelled to tell the world just how ‘gutted’ they are.
When Andre Villas-Boas bit the dust, there was a discernible silence. All our timelines were treated to was the unconfined (and rather predictable) joy of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Tottenham’s banished and not at all bitter, left-back.
This non-reaction could be a sure-fire sign of AVB’s unpopularity in the dressing room; it may reflect how petrified the players are of Daniel Levy. Either way, no one seemed too outraged.
Not that we should take a great deal of notice. A player’s reaction is always to think of themself anyway. Back in my day we could always feign heartache if a journalist asked us the question; otherwise we’d just weigh up the pros and cons of what it meant to us silently, and move on. Maybe the Spurs squad have simply gone old school.
Appointing a caretaker manager is a big deal to players, though. Initially there’s a honeymoon period even if results aren’t great. I’ve tasted it a few times, and particularly remember being on the fringe of Arsenal’s first team squad when George Graham received his P45 at Highbury in February 1995.
Once the sobbing subsided, excitable boisterousness flooded through the camp. Off the leash, released from the regimental regime to which they’d grown accustomed, poor old Stewart Houston – the number two turned caretaker - had his hands full controlling the players. It seemed as if the shock of change had got the squad feeling all demob happy. If footballing purgatory was liberating at first, then the nervousness of uncertainty and instability followed.
What’s happening? Where do we stand? When will a decision be made? Professional footballers don’t like being left in limbo for long and the strain quickly began to show. Arsenal reached the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup final during Houston’s three-month tenure, but a record of six wins, three draws and nine defeats told its own not-so-successful story. If Tottenham Hotspur’s board don’t have a clear plan of action, I wonder if their players will follow a similar path.
While Tim Sherwood may have a sharp footballing brain, coach well, and possess some bright new ideas on how to improve the side, the players will still see him as the youth team gaffer; or technical co-ordinator to give him his proper title. As a Levy golden boy, he’ll have to work even harder to earn their respect, and that may take a while.
Instead of the focus being on results, it will be on their caretaker’s every move. Tottenham’s League Cup defeat to West Ham wasn’t the start Sherwood was looking for. It’s a loss that will sharpen the minds of his players, many of whom might have been looking forward to a fresh start without AVB.
If he’s well liked on the training ground, the squad will tolerate him for a while longer. However, more defeats could easily spark mutiny in the camp, especially among the raft of newcomers who were sold a vision of top four excellence by a coach that’s no longer there. Do I still want to be part of this? They’ll ask themselves the question.
If Tottenham consider Sherwood a genuine candidate, he should be afforded time to show what he’s made of. And the board should make it clear that’s what’s happening. If they don’t bother; it wouldn’t take much for confused disenchantment to derail their season completely. It’s a delicate situation inside that dressing room right now.
Should Tottenham only see their former midfielder as a short-term stop-gap, they need to get their skates on and appoint a successor fast.
While Guus Hiddink, Roberto di Matteo and Rafa Benitez all proved at Chelsea that interim management can work, it is the exception not the norm. Professional footballers are precious creatures, who like to know where they stand. Confusing situations don’t sit well for long periods.
If Spurs are to fully recover from the regime change that’s rocked their season, Daniel Levy needs to reveal his plan, and reveal it ASAP.
Who will replace AVB as Spurs coach? Check the latest odds here.
Read more from former Arsenal midfielder Adrian Clarke.