Tottenham's players held a frank and at times fraught and furious two-hour meeting in the wake of Saturday's crushing defeat by Chelsea, it has been revealed. After being chastised by their head coach, Tim Sherwood, who publicly branded their performance "gutless", the players conducted their own post-mortem on a capitulation that left the futures of the manager and his squad in jeopardy.
Sherwood was again bluntly critical today, stating that regardless of reputation every player has the remaining two months of the season, starting with the Europa League last-16 first leg against Benfica, to prove they deserve to remain at the club.
The head coach, who said he believed he would still be in charge next season and has begun planning for it, remains unconcerned that his bluntness might put delicate noses out of joint. "I'm a manager not a babysitter," said Sherwood. "A lot of players are playing for their future and they realise that now. They have that chance between now and the end of the season to prove they want to play for a giant club like Tottenham."
It was the midfielder Sandro who revealed what had gone on behind the scenes after the second-half performance against Chelsea, in which Spurs conceded four times. "We had a meeting with the players," he said. "Sometimes one player got a bit more stressed out and we tried to calm him down and talk in a nice way. We spent about two hours that way. Every player had their fair share to say, let's put it this way. We all spoke amongst ourselves.
"Sometimes when you lose games in that way everyone gets cross and we all scream and shout. We have to improve and do our best to get things better. This stems from the reaction to the loss and the way we lost. But we will turn things around."
Benfica is the first of two games at White Hart Lane that will go a distance to deciding Tottenham's season, and with it Sherwood's position – Louis van Gaal has been repeatedly linked with the manager's job following the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas in December.
It is followed by Sunday's north London derby, with Spurs four points off fourth place in the Premier League table and six behind third-placed Arsenal. "If we win this game it will change everything," added Sandro.
Sherwood was taken to task by Gary Lineker on Twitter for his "honest but unwise public condemnation of his own players". Lineker, who has been critical of Sherwood's tactical approach, tweeted "there is no quicker way to lose the confidence and trust of your players than to slag them off publicly".
But Sandro claimed the players had no issue with Sherwood's public dressing-down. "He said the same thing to us as what he said to the press," he explained. "I know the manager is with us and we are with the manager. We need to show more in the next match to tell the manager that we care. We will do that.
"The manager is the manager. He can say more or less what he feels like. If he says something like that it's because he feels some or all of us are not doing their job.
"We always learn with every manager. That is what we have to do. Maybe some managers shout more than others. Villas-Boas, for example, liked to pull you aside and have a nice chat to you to explain things. But other managers are more vocal. As professional football players, we have to work with all managers and do our best for them and for us."
Sherwood insisted his players could – or rather should – handle it. "They know how I am and how I felt about what happened," he said. "They are all men, they appreciate that I am singing it from the heart, not from the script – I'm not an actor, I work on impulse.
"Everyone gets a second chance. I am never ever going to burn bridges with players. They are an asset to the football club. They have an opportunity to respond. It's out there now, they know what's required. It's not about going 1-0 and then going and playing well – it's about in adversity, who wants to roll their sleeves up."
Sherwood added: "It's a level playing field from the kids to the money signings. No one is going to get preferential treatment just because of a price tag. It's about what they are doing on the pitch. I am seeing them every day. I know the DNA of the guys, and I know the ones I can trust and the ones I can't."
Sherwood will be without Michael Dawson for the first leg against a buoyant Benfica side who have not lost since November and sit seven points clear in their domestic league.
Dawson will also miss the Arsenal game, but Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembélé could feature.
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