The Last Word: Tim Sherwood out of his depth at a flawed club
Spurs chairman gave him the job and £110m of unsuitable players. Now the manager may pay the price
Sunday 16 March 2014
Tim Sherwood was the gaffer reinvented as a geezer. His body language screamed "do you want some?" His gilet was unzipped, and his gimlet eye suggested he had become unglued. The response to the taunts of Benfica coach Jorge Jesus revealed his desperation, inexperience and vanity.
Tottenham's latest interim manager compounded the error by subsequently sounding like a self-possessed estate agent regaling his golf partners with the tale of how he put the waiter at the local gastropub in his place: "He doesn't mind himself, does he, to be fair? Nah. Not for me, thanks."
The ghost of Bill Nicholson winced and retreated still further into the shadows. The dignity he once represented has been replaced by empty sloganeering, corporate cynicism and a Dead Man Ranting. Should Spurs lose today's North London derby, things will turn decidedly ugly at White Hart Lane.
Self-appointed experts on social media have already tied Sherwood to the stake. Feckless multi-millionaire footballers have helped to collect the kindling. All it requires for the inevitable conflagration to begin is for Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy to play with his special set of matches.
Since English managers are as fashionable as Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Sherwood's contemporaries have a vested interest in his success. The virulence of the criticism directed at him poses inconvenient questions about why, and how, he finds himself so exposed.
He is manifestly out of his depth. His selection policy is random and reactive. He is emotionally incontinent and lacks intellectual rigour. His authority has been fatally compromised. He is the product of a dysfunctional system, promoted beyond his pay grade.
It was expedient to appoint him, when Levy lost his nerve and his patience with Andre Villas-Boas. He inherited an unbalanced squad. Franco Baldini, Tottenham's politically adroit director of football, has been allowed to escape responsibility for a £110 million mistake.
Sherwood will pay for having the courage of his convictions. He reminded players of their responsibilities, and chose to publicly belittle them. The recklessness with which he played to the gallery suggested that he knew his 18-month contract had effectively been written in invisible ink.
For the past month he has had to endure managers like Frank de Boer, Louis Van Gaal and Roberto Mancini shamelessly coveting his job. Such jockeying for position is normal, but conventionally conducted under cover or by proxy.
In an age of sterile soundbites, finely calculated agendas and facile mission statements, Sherwood's candour has been refreshing. He deserves praise for getting the best out of Emmanuel Adebayor, and has the ardour of a natural enthusiast.
He once staged a game for promising local schoolboy players on a pitch marked out in the back garden of his Hertfordshire home. After half an hour, he could no longer stand being a spectator. He dashed inside to find his football boots.
Yet he also represents the professional arrogance of the ultimate boys club. He embodies a show-us-your-medals culture, in which the qualities required to win the Premier League as a player are expected to translate seamlessly to management. Former team-mates speak of him warmly as a no-compromise character.
Sherwood excelled in a development role but lacks the necessary qualifications to manage at the highest level. Ironically, given the popularity of his directness in press conferences, the outstanding module in his current coaching course involves media relations.
He will never receive due respect because it is denied at source. Levy has treated him with feudal disregard. Losing the boardroom is ultimately more significant than losing the dressing room. He's Tottenham's Roberto Di Matteo, a human sandbag, destined to be discarded.
Tottenham's players are modern mercenaries with no real conception of their club's culture and traditions. They don't relate to the lyricism of Danny Blanchflower or the defiance of Dave Mackay. They're there for cash and career advancement.
They know also that the gaffer will soon be a gonner.
Jockeys' dignity is racing's big asset
Horse racing has fundamental problems to address. It remains in denial about doping, dependent on investment from the Gulf, and remarkably sanguine about the incestuous nature of its relationship with the betting industry.
But before it returns to the margins after an impossibly dramatic Cheltenham Festival, it deserves praise and a degree of understanding. A newly developed culture of transparency puts more opaque sports like football to shame.
Allowing cameras into the stewards' inquiry, which decided the winner of the Gold Cup, guaranteed compelling viewing. It also highlighted racing's undervalued asset, jockeys, whose professionalism, durability and dignity are unmatched.
A borderline decision was accepted with equanimity on a day which demanded a sense of perspective. Davy Russell, the winning jockey, knew Bryan Cooper, the young rider for whom he had been sacked earlier this season, was undergoing secondary surgery on what his doctor described as the worst leg fracture he had seen.
Ruby Walsh and Daryl Jacob, Cheltenham stars, were also in hospital with broken bones. Internet trolls, disgustingly exultant about Walsh's plight following his assertion dead horses were "replaceable", will have lost the Animal Cruelty lobby a lot of support. That, in the long term, will be significant.
Jonathan Trott wishes the world to know he is not "crazy" or a "nutcase", His "stress-related illness" was a simple case of burn-out. His revelatory interview, due to be transmitted on television tonight, reveals a courageous but confused man who is not yet ready to return to international cricket.
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