Tottenham Hotspur: Why Only a Top-4 Finish Will Be Enough to Save Tim Sherwood

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2014

Ignore this article's title for a moment.

What Tim Sherwood needs to achieve at Tottenham Hotspur this season may be known only to a few select people in the club's hierarchy—if that. The possible permutations are varying enough in significance that the idea just one specific outcome will keep him employed is perhaps too limited in thinking.

A repeat of the conclusion of 2011-12 when Tottenham finished fourth in the Premier League and lost out on Champions League qualification because of Chelsea winning the tournament is still possible. What would the club think of Sherwood in that instance?

Accepting that we cannot predict the future—not to mention football's ability to throw up the unexpected—Spurs' recent handling of their managers does not bode well for Sherwood if he does not make the top four this season.

The 45-year-old has done a commendable job since being appointed. His team sits fifth in the division having won six of nine league matches since he took charge and has done relatively well in correcting the goalscoring issue that was previously so problematic.

Spurs' playing style under Sherwood is still a work in progress. That process has had its hiccups, with the losses to Arsenal (in the FA Cup) and Manchester City in particular highlighting kinks in his system that still need to be worked out. 

Not quite smooth sailing then, but Spurs have yet to hit seriously rocky shores under the new man's direction. Striker Emmanuel Adebayor certainly has kind things to say:

For all of this, it is hard to ignore the precedent set in the dismissal of Sherwood's predecessors. Unique though the circumstances of each was a general theme unites them all: that pesky lack of Champions League football.

Andre Villas-Boas took Spurs to their highest points tally (72) of the Premier League era last season but just missed out on it. That fifth-place finish and concerns the club's form might not even match that this time around saw chairman Daniel Levy and his fellow decision-makers show the Portuguese the door in December.

The aforementioned 2011-12 campaign saw Spurs lose their hold on third place to Arsenal amid speculation linking Harry Redknapp with the England job (which, of course, ultimately went to Roy Hodgson). How much of an influence this had on his team losing form late that year is difficult to judge.

Whatever the reasons behind it, the goodwill Redknapp had created leading Spurs into Europe's premier competition two years previously had evaporated after successive failures to return.

Spurs' woeful start to 2008-09 saw Juande Ramos dispatched without much remorse. It was an ironic ending for the Spaniard, given the two-time UEFA Cup winner with Sevilla had come in at the disappointed expense of Martin Jol following his two fifth-place finishes while in charge.

For Sherwood, the Premier League's stiff level of competition is part of a vicious circle in regards to his own prospects in the N17 hot seat.

Even in a year in which Manchester United are struggling, Liverpool's resurgence, and the continued strength and consistency of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City will make finishing in the top four very hard.

Yet, Tottenham evidently believe they need to get a foothold there if they are to establish a residency (or the closest thing to it in such an ephemeral sport) and reap the benefits of regular Champions League football—chiefly the money and prestige that will allow them to attract players good enough to challenge in that competition and for a title.

However, there is no guarantee that things will go exactly to plan. Spurs enjoyed their time competing with Europe's elite in 2010-11, but save for the memories it created and a healthy few extra quid, it did not especially change much for them.

Giving Sherwood an 18-month contract upon his appointment was smart. It offered scope for him to build on potential good work this year with the safety net for the club of having him tied down should they wish to proceed with him. Crucially, it was not the kind of lengthy, clause-laden agreement that would make them think twice about sacking him. 

That hypothetical is very much a player in most aspects of Sherwood's future right now. One such example of this is ongoing speculation linking current Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal with the Englishman's job.

The great Dutch coach was initially linked with the post after Villas-Boas left, though as The Guardian's Dominic Fifield noted at the time, he would only be interested in taking it after the 2014 World Cup.

According to The Mirror's Dave Kidd, Van Gaal remains a candidate with Levy who, despite being a "long-term supporter of Sherwood, has not been impressed by elements of his managerial style."

Not knowing what Levy is thinking, it is sensible to take such reports with a pinch of salt. Yet, the tantalising prospect of hiring a former European Cup winner who has succeeded in Germany, Holland and Spain would be understandably hard to ignore. Perhaps even more so if the club had the base position of being back in the bracket for "ol' big ears."

It is dismaying enough to even contend that a good season by almost any measure might not be enough to keep Sherwood in employment as manager of Spurs—and that achieving their season's aims could still see him on his way out would be undeniably cruel.

Sadly, football is like that. And in some respects, so are Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.


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