Sherwood Was Always Levy's Free Shot...

...so it's difficult to feel much sympathy. Tim Sherwood will walk into another job precisely because Levy gave him a chance beyond his experience. He always knew the score...

Last Updated: 13/05/14 at 14:40 Post Comment

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"If the season was to end tomorrow the chairman wouldn't be too happy because we're fifth. The final league position has to meet the expectations of the club otherwise it's 'Goodbye Charlie'. The club need to finish in fourth place. Anything other than that is going to be a disappointment" - Tim Sherwood, January 19.

Sherwood was quite chipper when he made that admission - his Tottenham side were level on points with fourth-placed Liverpool, having won five of his first six Premier League games. He was The Timinator (thanks to The Sun) and he was proving that all that bumph about false 9s and midfield pivots quivered in fear at the feet of simply 'wanting it more'. When fourth place was a distinct possibility, Sherwood was happy to admit that he would pay with his job if he failed in his remit.

Three months later - with Tottenham crucially now seven points off fourth-placed Arsenal - Sherwood was backtracking, saying: "It was never the brief when I came into the club that we had to finish in fourth place. What was said to me was 'can we make the team a little bit more attractive and score more goals?' and I think I've ticked that box."

By May - when Sherwood had failed in his initial target - the tune had become: "How on earth did people think we would be title challengers or even make the top four?" Mind you, that did not stop Sherwood claiming that his Premier League record would have made Tottenham fourth over a full season. It seems he cares as little for maths as he does for holding midfielders. His record was good; but not that good.

Sherwood has taken great pride in his excellent 59.1% win percentage in the Premier League - and it will probably earn him a top-flight job elsewhere - but that win percentage is irrelevant in light of that quote right at the top of the page. Sherwood took the Tottenham job knowing he was a stop-gap, knowing there were better candidates, knowing he had to achieve something extraordinary to stay for the full 18 months.

We can argue all day about whether Daniel Levy was right to expect fourth place with that cobbled-together squad but the truth is that Sherwood was given a chance way, way beyond his experience precisely because it was a near-impossible job. It was a free shot from Levy. A rookie manager would never have got the Tottenham job, and the kickstart that has given his career, if it were June and a top-six club were looking for a long-term option. It was a 35-yard punt that needed one hell of a following wind.

And for a while it worked, until humblings from Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Oddly enough, Sherwood's boy Nabil Bentaleb (bizarrely and consistently preferred to Sandro and Etienne Capoue) was no match for Yaya Toure, playing Kyle Walker on the wing did not expose Jose Mourinho's tactical naivety and Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bentaleb (of course) struggled to protect Tottenham's defence from a rampaging Reds side. Nobody was surprised when assistant Les Ferdinand revealed that neither he nor Sherwood really believed in holding midfielders.

As one Tottenham fan memorably wrote to the F365 mailbox about the myths of Sherwood's reign: 'Tim Sherwood has made Spurs more exciting? Quite simply, he hasn't. He has simply made us more random.'

And 'random' brought results but it did not bring about the extraordinary feat of reaching the Champions League. Levy was probably rather more than 59.1% sure that failure, and Sherwood's exit, would be the season's outcome. But Levy wasn't the only one who knew - Sherwood went into a difficult situation with his eyes wide open; if you go into a classroom knowing you're a substitute teacher, don't be surprised if you get a rubber thrown at your head.

Sarah Winterburn

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