A 5-Point Plan for Tim Sherwood to Keep His Job at Tottenham Hotspur
Tim Sherwood's full-time appointment as Tottenham Hotspur manager in December was carefully announced by the club.
Confirmation that Sherwood had been handed a contract until the end of 2014-15 went some way to stopping complications that would have come with an interim mandate until the end of the current campaign. The kind that unsettled Rafael Benitez during his eventful tenure at Chelsea last year.
Chairman, Daniel Levy's statement on Tottenham's official website backed Sherwood, describing him as having "both the knowledge and the drive to take the squad forward." There was, however, no talk of the "long-term ambitions" which Levy greeted the Andre Villas-Boas appointment in June 2012, as reported via BBC Sport.
Just what the club's hierarchy has in mind for Sherwood as 2013-14 concludes is unclear. An article by Matt Law in last Saturday's Daily Telegraph had the 45-year-old as part of discussions over next season's squad but also mentioned Louis van Gaal as "the most likely appointment" if a change occurred.
The building process has to start in pre-season. Liverpool took a step back to move forwards. It requires patience. Whether Spurs want to do that I don't know. Whether they want me to be the person to do it remains to be seen.
It appears Sherwood has not been offered any guarantees over his future, but perhaps Levy and Co. are privately satisfied with his work. If there is still room for the coach to prove himself, what does he need to improve his chances of remaining in charge at Spurs?
Over the following few pages, a five-point plan for the current boss to keep his job is laid out. None of the suggestions are especially revelatory but are musts if he wants to remain at White Hart Lane in his current capacity.
Stating the obvious, Sherwood needs his team to finish the season well.
A top-four place looks a lot less likely after defeats to Chelsea and Arsenal. If that was his sole remit, failure here will hurt Sherwood in the eyes of the club's decision-makers who covet the Champions League so lustfully.
If there is understanding about the difficulty of the job Sherwood took on midway through the season, though, a positive run of results could be enough to buy him time for next year.
Finishing above the likes of Everton, Manchester United and Southampton—and with it qualifying for the Europa League (no matter its contentiousness as a competition, European football is still a big deal)—would be no small achievement in an increasingly competitive division.
Tottenham turning around their current Europa League contest with Benfica and progressing in the tournament could also build confidence in the ability of a Sherwood team to achieve its targets.
Victory in Estadio da Luz on Thursday would go some way to healing the players' damaged self-belief when it comes to facing top opposition. For Spurs to trust in Sherwood going forward, the club needs to know he can make them competitive on such occasions—an area the team has notably struggled in this season.
Get Closer to Establishing How He Wants His Team to Play
So much talk of philosophies and visions for how a team plays or a club is structured permeates through football these days.
Grand themes are all well and good when success and money is there to support the dream. For most clubs, including Tottenham, the reality of winning matches and maintaining a relatively healthy league position is testing enough. Staying in touching distance with the Barcelonas and the Manchester Citys of this world is a whole lot tougher.
Sherwood has spoken about Spurs' need for a more concrete strategy—notably just prior to his full-time appointment, as reported by The Independent's Sam Wallace.
The best he can do in the present is getting some way to establishing how he wants his team to play.
Spurs notably had some success moving to a two-man attack upon Sherwood initially taking over. Since then, the lone-striker option favoured by Villas-Boas has also been utilised.
In both cases, Sherwood has experimented in his midfield with traditional positional structures. Assigned roles defined by specific duties have been part of a looser approach than strict versions of a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1 might imply.
Great teams are not confined to one strict system. Different opponents can necessitate alterations, even if they are minute.
But an idea of how the manager sees the ideal setup of his team is clear. Flexibility may be chief among Sherwood's preferred strategies, or he may settle on one preferred blueprint.
As noted on the previous page, results will be integral regardless. However, the Spurs hierarchy will almost certainly warm even more to its current coach if a successful style can be pinpointed in the process.
Bring the Best Out of Last Summer's Signings (or at Least Some of Them)
In his aforementioned piece, Law reported that Tottenham, heading into next season, "will target three key signings who can make an immediate impact on the first team as part of a summer transfer strategy that will focus on quality over quantity."
Law also noted "several of the recent arrivals" could be "expected to leave" as part of the north London club's streamlining process.
The players bought in summer 2013's spending spree have produced mixed levels of performance since joining. Despite plans being drawn up for changes in Spurs' playing staff, there is still time for these purchases to prove their worth and for Sherwood to show he can get the best out of the resources at his disposal.
Nacer Chadli enjoyed arguably his best start in a Spurs shirt this past weekend against Arsenal. The skillful and physically imposing Belgian reveled in the involvement granted him in a central role. It was a tactic not previously tried by Sherwood, but here, it worked well and could be used again moving forward.
If none of the arrivals have completely set the world alight (though Vlad Chiriches and Christian Eriksen have been commendably consistent), none have been woeful either. There is still potential in each case.
Roberto Soldado has yet to start since his match-winner against Cardiff City, and he will be eager to prove he has regained his finishing touch. If he can get fit before the season ends, Erik Lamela will surely be chomping at the bit to end a difficult first year in the Premier League on a high.
The Argentine has shown flashes of his clear talent. Some eye-catching, late-season cameos from him are an enticing prospect and plenty reason why Sherwood can still demonstrate he has a knack for inspiring his players.
Continue to Harness the Club's Youth System
In his previous roles as technical coordinator and a coach of Tottenham's young players, Sherwood familiarised himself with the club's structure and the talent it was producing.
Spurs have produced their best crop of youngsters for well over a decade in recent seasons, and the club's manager has been making use of three this season.
Sherwood's decision to promote Nabil Bentaleb to first-team duty has been decisive with supporters, with some preferring to see more experienced midfielders playing ahead of him. This writer would rate the Algerian's contributions more positively than some, but either way, the 19-year-old is likely to benefit long term from his chances this year.
Harry Kane has seen less playing time, but he has quietly impressed with his general work in recent weeks. The striker is still raw, but his composure in possession and hunger to get in goalscoring positions is impressive. Further proving his quality before the year is out would help lessen the need for Spurs to look elsewhere for another striker.
Andros Townsend was already in the senior picture prior to Sherwood's appointment. Injured for most of his first couple of months in charge, the winger has taken time regaining his fitness and form.
A bright display against Arsenal hinted at both coming back, though. Townsend needs further refinement to become a genuinely top player, but his bravery and general attributes mark him out as someone with clear potential.
If Sherwood can show with these three right now he is the man to mold and shape their budding talent, it will help underline he is also the man to do similar with Spurs' other prospects.
The likes of Shaq Coulthirst, Ryan Fredericks and Alex Pritchard will all be back and vying for first-team minutes next season. There is no guarantee over any of them, but there is at least hope.
Get on the Same Page as Levy and the Board
Following the Arsenal loss, Sherwood telling BBC Sport post-match how "it remains to be seen" if the Tottenham board trust him as manager suggested there is some disconnect between the two parties.
It is the most speculative of all the points laid out in this article for Sherwood keeping his job, but establishing what each want from each other as soon as possible is important for Spurs.
We do not know with much certainty what the level of dialogue between Sherwood and his chairman is. Or with technical director Franco Baldini or anyone in the hierarchy for that matter.
Whilst it is unlikely Sherwood can kick the boardroom doors open, barge in and demand of Levy, or whoever answers, assertiveness on his part will be necessary.
Be it in Spurs talking to Juande Ramos behind Martin Jol's back in the last days of the Dutchman's reign or the speculation linking Harry Redknapp with the England job in 2012, the north Londoners have hurt themselves by not being clear in their discourse and intentions.
If he goes some way to staking his own case, Sherwood can at least discern whether he has a future with Spurs.
What response this will provoke is unknown. Along with the on-field matters discussed already in this piece, it is Sherwood's best chance of forcing the issue positively in his favour.
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