It’s not just that we don’t know if Tim Sherwood is a good manager, more that we don’t even know if he’s a manager at all. Things aren’t going well at Aston Villa…
When Tim Sherwood was appointed as Aston Villa manager last season, he turned up at his unveiling press conference looking like a man who had slept in the office after a work party, eyes bloodshot and stubble at five o’clock. Or, as one wag on the internet put it, he looked ‘like he’s about to appeal for the safe return of his stepdaughter, but you already know he did it.’ This, you’ll remember, was after he’d been off for eight months following his dismissal by Spurs, so one wondered how he would look after the stresses and strains of Premier League management took their toll.
We are now discovering exactly that, as Sherwood shuffles out after every defeat, his face a curious mixture of disconsolate deflation, abject fear but also a steely cockiness that may or may not be put on. He looks a bit like a man off on an extreme sports holiday with the lads who has forgot to take out any travel insurance; behind the facade is absolute terror, but his default bravado won’t stop him sinking that first pint before the 7am flight. Compare Sherwood’s visage with Paul Lambert, who looks about ten years younger these days than when he occupied the Villa big chair.
Aston Villa are, all in all, a piping hot mess at the moment. They haven’t won in the league since the opening day, losing six of their last seven matches and the only brief moment of respite, the single draw in that spell, was against Sunderland, whose incompetence (along with Newcastle’s) is the only thing keeping Villa off the bottom of the table.
This run in itself doesn’t prove that Sherwood is a fraud, a man who has reached his current position by riding a wave of his own ego but who doesn’t actually have the first idea of what he’s doing, but the signs aren’t good. Not quite so much in the results, but that in the last few games Sherwood has looked as if he’s groping around in the dark, like a man hunting for his spectacles at 2am. He seems to try different tactics and approaches in every game, usually without a huge amount of logic, and according to FootballLineups.com he has used five different formations in those seven games (the last, a 3-5-2 against Stoke, abandoned at half-time), altering personnel each time. Sometimes a flexible approach gives a manager an air of admirable adaptability, but sometimes it suggests a manager who doesn’t really know what he’s doing.
It’s for this reason that we don’t really know what sort of manager Sherwood is. In the summer he commented that this season we would see what a Tim Sherwood side really was, and when questioned as to exactly what a Tim Sherwood side was, he simply replied “Winners.” After the defeat to Stoke, he said: “I had a manager in the opposite dugout (Mark Hughes) who hasn’t had it his own way at every club but he’s come through and stuck to his beliefs. That’s exactly what Tim Sherwood will be doing.”
Leaving aside the third person reference for a second, what exactly are those beliefs? Without an intimate presence in the Villa dressing room it’s slightly difficult to say exactly what his managerial approach is, but it sure as hell isn’t obvious from the way Villa have been playing. It’s not just that we don’t really yet know if Sherwood is a good manager, but that we don’t really know if he’s a manager at all, or just a smooth talker who’s prepared to wear as many items from the club shop at one time as possible.
The one thing we do know about Sherwood is that he’s a Football Man, because people say so. People like Jamie Redknapp, admittedly, but people nonetheless. And one of the things about a Football Man is that they’re no nonsense, they don’t take any rubbish from anyone and they keep things simple. That was something one could see in Sherwood in his brief spells of promise, that he thought of simplicity as a virtue and that complexity only, well, complicated things, a perfectly valid approach that has worked in the past. That has seemingly been abandoned this season and nervous tinkering has taken its place.
Perhaps Sherwood isn’t actually a manager at all. The only real, definite and distinguishable quality that he seems to have is an ability to get the best from previously underperforming strikers. Both Emmanuel Adebayor and Christian Benteke flourished under Sherwood’s tutelage, admittedly via some relatively basic psychology which appeared to consist of him telling both men they were great. Again, simple it might be, but it worked. Maybe he should sack the managerial thing off, and simply operate as some sort of freelance striker whisperer, a consultant who goes from club to club and has a little word in the shell-like of any out of form striker, gets them scoring and skips away with a fat stack of cash from his generous hourly rate. It’d give him a bit of free time, be a nice little earner and those eyes might not look quite so sunken all the time.
Yet it seems he’s quite set on this manager thing. Sherwood has of course been handed some pretty rum cards this season, trying to fashion a Villa side after their two best players were sold. Another, Ron Vlaar, left with the hope of better things only to bugger up his knee. This is a new squad, and one that is in the process of being knitted together, so one can’t hope for instant brilliant results.
The thing is, that squad will only be knitted together by someone who knows what he’s doing, by a manager with a clear idea of how he wants to manage. At the moment, Sherwood has shown little of this.