As Tottenham laboured to a 1-1 draw at home to West Bromwich Albion on Boxing Day, there were times when they looked like the Spurs of old; "old" in this context being the long spell starting in the mid-Nineties when they sat frustrated in the middle of the table while a man called Wenger arrived at the other North London club, who immediately started looking down on them from a great height.
After 1996, Spurs did not finish in the top eight until Martin Jol brought them two successive fifth places in 2006 and '07. Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas-Boas, like Jol, found that fourth and fifth did not satisfy the demands of the chairman Daniel Levy.
Now the team are in the hands of a battery of coaches including former players Tim Sherwood, Steffen Freund and Les Ferdinand, all of whom played in the side during that unsuccessful period before leaving at almost exactly the same time in 2003. So at least the new management team will know all about under-achieving Spurs sides and how they are perceived in the boardroom and the stands.
Taking over in the "holiday" period is far from ideal. Amid a run of eight games in little more than three weeks, continuing at home to Stoke City today, he said: "It's like a whirlwind, the games are coming thick and fast. I haven't had time to breathe really. You end up with six players training or five [with the others having to be rested]. It's been difficult. But I've been a fan, I don't want to start making excuses."
Injuries come into that category, and half a dozen players are unavailable. Paulinho and possibly Aaron Lennon return but Kyle Walker is suspended and Jermain Defoe is doubtful. Defoe's absence was keenly felt against Albion when Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado were failing to break through a three-man central defence, and the full-backs, Walker and Danny Rose, were the best players. Spurs managed only three shots on target, one of which was Christian Eriksen's perfect free-kick in off the crossbar.
It would be good if the gifted Eriksen could find a regular place but Sherwood has to make the decision that Villas-Boas never could about which is the best midfield combination. The new man wants to use two strikers and two wide players, leaving room for only two in central midfield, which has allowed Southampton and West Bromwich plenty of space to work in his two League games to date.
Both have been open spectacles of the type Tottenham fans traditionally prefer to the more cagey Villas-Boas version, but Sherwood is very much the realist about the balance between entertainment and results. "I know that the pressure is on to be getting results," he said. "That is what we need to work towards. The target is to win as many games as you possibly can."
A victory today would give him a positive record going into daunting games at Manchester United (Wednesday) and Arsenal (Saturday in the FA Cup). Spurs' approach to those fixtures will be significant – and significantly different to that of Chelsea, who played for a draw at both venues.
Sherwood said that when he was interviewed for the job by Levy, "He looked at the way I wanted to play and what vision I saw, and I was as honest as I can. It was the fact that this is the way I see the game going forward. I have had a whole number of very experienced, successful managers. I have taken little bits from all of them, some how to do it and some how not to do it.
"I won the championship at Blackburn so Kenny Dalglish was a big influence on me, George Graham when he managed here, Roy Hodgson."
Hodgson blamed Sherwood, his captain, for getting him the sack at Blackburn. He fell out too with Glenn Hoddle at Spurs and, whether or not he has mellowed after working with younger players in the Tottenham Academy, Sherwood gives the impression of not shying away from confrontation with anyone.
The occasional one-liner will also keep the media amused, such as his Mourinho-like response to a suggestion that the board have shown great faith in him as a rookie manager: "Yes. I congratulate them for it."
David Pleat, the director of football throughout Sherwood's playing time at the club, says: "He is quite opinionated and will have to temper his views, but he will not be a 'yes' man. He is ambitious and a leader. He is a hard-working guy. He has developed and helped develop some good players that have emerged this season. Every manager is a risk. There are no messiahs out there. I think Tim will do OK."
Tottenham Hotspur v Stoke City kicks off at 4pm today
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