WHITE HART LANE, LONDON—If Tim Sherwood wants to continue his fledgling managerial career beyond the end of this current season, it looks increasingly certain he will have to do it somewhere other than White Hart Lane.
The Spurs head coach surely expected to have to fend off sustained attacks from many quarters following Saturday's somewhat embarrassing 4-0 Premier League defeat to Chelsea, but he seemed understandably taken aback when it was his opposite number on Thursday, Benfica boss Jorge Jesus, who was the one berating barely ten minutes into their match.
Jesus seemed to take exception to Sherwood wandering across into his technical area, shooing the Englishman away to the bemusement of the fourth official.
Sherwood looked genuinely taken aback at the exchange, stuttering for a moment before launching into a retaliatory tirade—although, like much of Sherwood's tenure to date, it did not appear particularly convincing.
Nevertheless, the newly forged enmity between the two coaches proved an entertaining side plot throughout the following 80 minutes, as Benfica cruised to an eventual 3-1 away victory, a win that surely makes them prohibitive favourites to progress following next week's second leg.
The third goal, an emphatic close range strike from Luisao, was greeted by Jesus waving three fingers in the direction of Sherwood—a gesture the Englishman understandably did not take well.
Shambolic defending by #thfc again. Poor marking. Lloris pushed ball away, Luisao lashed it in. Jesus and Sherwood squaring up.— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) March 13, 2014
Jesus later claimed he was signifying Luisao's shirt number, a somewhat bare-faced lie considering the Brazilian wears No. 4.
"Probably. It is his own problem," Jesus told reporters, when asked if he thought Sherwood had taken offence to his conduct.
Here in England the benches are too close compared to in Portugal. In Portugal we have more space and we can express ourselves in our own way.
Maybe here at some stage I invaded Tim's space and he told me so, and then he did it and so I told him. But it was quite pleasant in the end actually.
That assertion of managerial detente was not backed up by Sherwood, who seemed almost relieved at a distraction—however petty—from another inadequate display from his own side.
"To be fair, he doesn't mind himself, does he?" Sherwood retorted.
"I thought their team are very good and showed a lot of class, it's a shame he didn't too.
"It started in the first few minutes, him going to the fourth official. I've never seen it in my career—but then it's been a short one so far."
It was an unexpectedly poignant aside, considering his Spurs career might well now end at the conclusion of the season.
Loud boos at the final whistle at White Hart Lane, as Sherwood looks on very stern-faced.— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) March 13, 2014
In the aftermath of the Stamford Bridge debacle, it seemed that perhaps only a deep Europa League run could feasibly ensure that Sherwood would see out more than just the first third of the 18-month contract he originally signed to replace Andre Villas-Boas, but the second leg comeback that would now be required looks hugely unlikely on this evidence.
Benfica outplayed and out-thought Tottenham throughout, profiting on their opponent's lack of cohesion and real spirit, as confusion reigned supreme across the midfield.
By the half-hour mark, the home side's players had resorted to a series of aimless long balls forward and vague assaults that the visitors dealt with easily.
As both sides walked in at half-time, one fan near the press area screamed for the Spurs players to "sort it out" (with a few expletives thrown in for emphasis), and when they (very briefly) did that, they immediately got their rewards.
Spurs' goal came from the one moment where things vaguely fell into place. Kyle Naughton and Harry Kane showing smart feet and quick thinking before the latter won a free-kick, an opportunity Christian Eriksen would curl expertly into the top corner.
It was a glimpse at Spurs' potential, but ultimately one that only inadvertently underlined just how sub-par they were over the rest of the match and in recent weeks.
If Sherwood's Spurs have a plan it's not immediately evident. Not dissimilar to the side he played in— Paul Kelso (@pkelso) March 13, 2014
Were money no object, this Benfica team would be picked apart by Premier League sides like it was a game of "Operation"—Lazar Markovic, Gabriel Sigueira, Rodrigo and Ezequiel Garay have all had (and will surely continue to have) their Premier League admirers.
Spurs, on this evidence (and under this management), could barely flog off most of their squad for parts. On Thursday, there was no creativity or invention, and only a dubious amount of effort—despite Sherwood's protestations that he had been happy with his side's desire.
Asked if he thought Spurs had lacked character and desire, even in translation (or perhaps because of it) Jesus managed to slide the proverbial shiv under Sherwood's ribcage and twist.
"Not really," he said. "Tottenham have some of the best technical players and individuals, and I found the Spurs players more often than not were well concentrated.
"I think they were trying to put on the pitch their manager's ideas."
Maybe Jesus was not trying to be clever, but the inference certainly seemed to be that Sherwood did not have many of them.
Sherwood cannot entirely be blamed for what is now all but certain to be a "lost season" for Spurs; however, he, like Villas-Boas, is attempting to fashion something from a squad that was evidently overhauled too extensively in the summer and perhaps will only truly flourish with a second season to gel.
By then, they will likely be working with a different manager—one who might experience an immediate benefit from that extra period of maturation, or may just sell off some of the personnel he does not want to buy players of his own preference, starting the same vicious cycle all over again.
Sherwood would be cheap to remove, and his results—and performances—have not been good enough to keep the finger off that trigger.
One wonders what chairman David Levy makes of all this. Has anything really been gained by sacking Villas-Boas when they did? Sherwood's appointment may have provided an immediate boost (albeit one aided in many ways by good fortune), but since then results against big clubs have not improved and the quality of the football on display has declined even further.
Barring a brilliant run of results, all that is left for the club to do is play out the remainder of their fixtures this season and then reshuffle in the summer.
Louis van Gaal, Luciano Spalletti, even Rafael Benitez could all be in the frame.
Before all that is the next game, though, which is against Arsenal. Lose, and Spurs can surely kiss goodbye once and for all to Champions League qualification for another season.
Perhaps, though, if it is true what they say about form going out of the window in derbies, that might be the source of hope.
"It's probably the best game we could have," Sherwood offered. "The players won't need any motivation for that. I'm sure they will be up for it."