Thursday 5 December 2019

Dion Fanning: Tottenham's DIY gaffer senses the impossibility of a quick fix

Tottenham Hotspur manager Tim Sherwood
Tottenham Hotspur manager Tim Sherwood

Dion Fanning

There is a feeling of real sadness for many this weekend as we come to terms with the knowledge that Tim Sherwood may only have a few weeks left as manager of Tottenham Hotspur.

Has a man ever risen to such a position of importance in as short a time as Tim Sherwood? Has a man ever placed himself at the centre of public life as quickly as Tim Sherwood? Six months ago, only a few knew of the ambitions Tim harboured and a few more were aware of his fine work on one or more of the club's transfer committees.

Now barely a day passes when I don't find myself wondering what Tim Sherwood would think about some aspect of modern life like Snapchat or Leo Varadkar. Even if I probably know the answer (if it's modern I feel that Tim would essentially be against it and picture him shaking his head in that rueful way that became so familiar during his time in the directors' box at Anfield last weekend), I can't help a twinge of regret that soon he will again return to the periphery.

There are times when Sherwood looks like that rare thing – the English eejit – but there are other times when his self-belief suggests that he belongs in the first rank.

Last week, he gave a revealing interview to Sam Wallace and talked about his desire to remain at Tottenham Hotspur and put things right.

"They are all internationals," Sherwood said of the Spurs squad, "but it is like fixing a washing machine with someone else's tool bag. Sometimes you might not have the right bit in there."

Again, Tim found the right word, the mot juste, as he would never say. If Tim is to enter into metaphorical territory – and as a straight-talker, he resists it – he would naturally cast himself as a handyman, the ordinary joe who relishes a bit of DIY but has perhaps dallied too long in the aisles of B&Q, assessing ratchet handles.

Unfortunately, Tottenham currently resemble a house that is being remodelled by an enthusiastic amateur who refuses to acknowledge the mounting chaos. The toilet is too close to the facing wall, the washing machine spins chaotically around the utility room and, when you turn the kitchen tap on, water comes out of the shower.

Tim nobly and stubbornly refuses to see this as anybody else's problem. Sure, you could get somebody in but they'd be "foreign", charge you ten grand and wouldn't understand what your vision for the house was anyway.

"Someone could win 19 trophies elsewhere and they might not fit at Tottenham. The club has to fit the manager and you don't know until you bring them in. But they have a better idea with me than with anyone else," Sherwood said.

In a certain way, he is right. Sherwood has captured something of the essence of Tottenham, something of the doomed inevitability that Roy Keane spoke of when he said in January that Tottenham will "let you down most times".

He does understand the club which may be the main thing but it is not necessarily a good thing.

Sherwood was criticised last week for staying in the directors' box at Anfield while his team fell apart.

His return to the touchline against Southampton had already entered into the modern folklore of the club and perhaps some wanted to see him make the same heroic entrance last week.

Yet Sherwood might have known this was different. The political commentator and Spurs fan David Aaronovitch tweeted last Sunday that he had turned off the game once he saw the shot of the Spurs players in the tunnel beforehand.

It was a remarkable scene as the Spurs players kicked back and hung out as if they were about to play a pro-celebrity game where their most taxing problem would be when to foul Gordon Ramsay. Jan Vertonghen looked as relaxed as Wooderson in Dazed and Confused. Here he was at Anfield, L-I-V-I-N.

Sherwood may have felt there wasn't much he could do with that mob, a reasonable position for anybody except the actual manager of Tottenham.

Glenn Hoddle was among those critical of the body language of the players, something that bothered Sherwood who commented that "it's been a long time since Glenn Hoddle has managed a football team and the game has moved on quite significantly".

Tim Sherwood hadn't managed a football team at all for a long time and he has now only been in charge for 22 matches but that is part of his appeal: he has arrived fully formed, insisting that we have always been aware of him and his ways – "You've seen enough of me ranting and raving" – when some of us barely know him at all.

He does things other men who had managed for 22 games would never imagine which is in keeping with the latest directional shift at White Hart Lane. Last summer, they reinvested the Gareth Bale money in a series of signings hailed for their imagination that so far have only been unsuccessful in their collective failure to make any impact whatsoever.

Sherwood, meanwhile, continues to speak his mind. Last week, he suggested Liverpool would be feeling the pressure before the game at Anfield. It was the type of play usually made by another manager in the title race – usually Sir Alex Ferguson – not by a manager in charge of a side that had conceded 23 goals against the top three in the previous league meetings this season with another four to come.

That was Sherwood, propelling himself and his players beyond their natural position and asking more of himself and of his team than was possible.

There is nothing wrong with that if the manager knows how to get it, something that seems to be eluding Sherwood right now. But Tim will tell it like it is, like it was and like he would want it to be. We haven't seen enough of him but this could be all we'll get.

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