The archetypal promoted-from-within caretaker manager who is hoping against hope that he might just land the top job is not given to making exacting demands of his club’s chairman. But then Tim Sherwood is not the archetypal caretaker manager.
At Tottenham this week, Sherwood has approached the situation left to him by Andre Villas-Boas’s sacking on Monday with a blunt honesty. Yesterday, he said he would like the job, but only if Daniel Levy, the chairman, was to set out a vision for the club that would extend beyond the never-ending series of deposed managers, each of whom arrived heralding a new dawn.
Sherwood even expressed the opinion which has so far remained unsaid publicly by the club: that the £108m spent on new players, and reinvested from the sale of Gareth Bale, in the summer has not brought in players who have – thus far – improved the team. A sobering thought for Levy as Sherwood prepares to take charge of his second game, the league match away to Southampton tomorrow.
As a tough, uncompromising midfielder, one of Kenny Dalglish’s first signings when he went about building the 1995 Premier League-winning Blackburn Rovers side, it would not be in Sherwood’s nature to beg for the job. He gave short shrift to the managerial lingua franca of the “project”, and said that for all those doing his job “the project is you win games or you get sacked. End of story”. He ruled out any possibility of being an assistant to a new man.
Sherwood has served a five-year apprenticeship overseeing Spurs’ junior teams and developed a passion for bringing young players through to the first team, a path he trod himself in the late 1980s at Watford, a club that then had an excellent record for producing players. It is some irony that Sherwood finds himself in charge of Spurs at a time when they have abandoned that programme of championing British players in favour of a major push in the international market.
“I know the players we have got here and I know the good young talent that is coming through the club,” Sherwood said. “It’s up to the club. I need to talk about philosophies. What are we looking to do? Are we looking to buy players or are we looking to bring them through? All this has to be taken into consideration when I decide whether it is right for me or not.”
What he means is that there has been no coherent vision to the Spurs structure that has seen eight managers come and go in the last 16 years. There have been some long-term strides: the recruitment of that good group of young British talent, including Bale and the re-signing of players on long-term contracts. There is a marvellous new training ground. But, as Villas-Boas’ troubled brief reign showed, there is no grand view on what the club want from their manager.
“Different managers have different ideas how to win a game,” Sherwood said. “I don’t think a manager has been brought into a club and told, ‘You have to win pretty’ or ‘You have to win ugly’. It is up to the hierarchy to decide what they require. If winning is not good enough, and you have to be pretty in the meantime, you have to get the right man in the meantime.
“I know the football club, I know the demands of the fans and I know what players we have at the club. But whether those demands are what the hierarchy here want is a different matter. We have to determine what success is for a football club. That is something for the powers-that-be to decide.”
The powers-that-be include the technical director, Franco Baldini, who led the way in the seven acquisitions over the summer, and a key member of the staff at Spurs whom Sherwood will be expected to work with. He said that he would, although it was not a ringing endorsement. “I’ve never known anything different as I’ve never managed without one,” Sherwood said. “I’m open-minded to it. My style of management would just have to evolve.”
It was Baldini who oversaw the disposal of much of the English talent that Sherwood has developed, among them Steven Caulker, sold to Cardiff, and Jake Livermore, loaned to Hull. Tom Carroll, a Sherwood-endorsed player, has been loaned to Queen’s Park Rangers. Sherwood picked five English players in his first team on Wednesday and for the likes of Andros Townsend, now injured, and Danny Rose, his appointment would be good news.
Sherwood believes in the club’s English talent, although whether that will endear him to the hierarchy remains to be seen. “Every club that has been successful at bringing their players through always buy players as well,” Sherwood said. “That’s the nature of it. My point of view is, I like to buy players who are going to make a difference to your XI.
“These boys [signed from abroad] need time, a lot of time ... the proof’s in the pudding. Let’s give them time to see if they can adapt because in the end they might be better than the ones you mentioned [who have left]. But, at the moment, you’d have to say there is not much between them.”
In the current climate at Spurs that is quite a contentious statement. So too Sherwood’s joke – well, part in jest, part serious – that the club simply has too many players. “I don’t know how they fit all of them out there. The injuries have helped with the numbers, but you want them fit. It’s 15-a-side in training. What are we going to do with them all?”
He could do with winning at St Mary’s, or at the least avoiding losing after the Capital One Cup defeat to West Ham. And that was at the heart of it. There needs to be a long-term plan but in the meantime he knows that whoever gets the job needs to win games. “I don’t want to insult the intelligence of the punters by saying ‘Don’t worry, I’ll turn it around in a minute’. They ain’t got time for that.
“There wasn’t any problem at all with Andre last year. I didn’t hear any dissenting voices about the style of play when Gareth Bale was dribbling it up the field and sticking it in the top corner in the last minute eight times. The fact is, winning is very important. So it’s a fine balance between being attractive and winning games.”
Pochettino and Laudrup out of the running
Mauricio Pochettino, who is preparing for Spurs’ visit to Southampton tomorrow, revealed he has not been approached by the London club. The Saints manager said being asked to work with signings he had not sanctioned, as Andre Villas-Boas hinted had happened, would be a deal-breaker. Pochettino said: “We don’t sign any player without my OK. Those things are very important for a coach.”
The Swansea manager, Michael Laudrup, has also ruled himself out. He said: “I would never leave a club in the middle of a season.”