Tim Sherwood was installed as the Aston Villa manager this week after what seemed like an eternity of being linked to every Premier League job that became available. The former Blackburn Rovers manager has had to wait since last May to return to the dugout, after he was let go by Tottenham Hotspur, but his patience has served him well in finding the club that suits him best.
Now, before I get started, don’t get me wrong — this is a hard, hard job Sherwood is facing. Having battled against relegation last season and re-entering the bottom three this past week, Villa are at a low ebb in every sense. The Birmingham club have been on a downward curve ever since the heady days of Martin O’Neill’s tenure: the three-peat of sixth placed finishes, a League Cup final, an FA Cup semi-final, Europa League football, and Ashley Young as the next big thing. Truly, a golden age.
I jest, but it was a fun couple of years for the club’s fans, and a reminder of just how good a manager O’Neill can be. The departure of the Northern Irishman, and the subsequent lack of interest (and thus investment) from American owner Randy Lerner, spelled the end of the good times. Indeed, Villa’s timeline of their history on their website ends in 2011 with the appointment of Alex McLeish on a three-year deal.
After him came another Old Firm veteran with Paul Lambert, once considered a promising young manager rising to the top of English domestic football, arriving in 2012. After 25 league games and 12 goals this season, he made way for Sherwood. While no one is expecting him to do terribly well, I think he is arguably as good an appointment as this team could have expected.
First of all, his positivity is a huge, albeit intangible, asset. For the reasons already mention, Villa is a pretty depressing place to be right now, both for players and fans. What Sherwood lacked in tactical nous at Spurs, he made up for in spades with motivational skills. His hands-on approach could work wonders on the training ground and in the dressing room, leading to better results on the pitch. His always enjoyable sound bites, gleefully welcomed by the press pack, trend-setting gilet and pitch side, ahem, energy, will hopefully liven up both staff and supporters. They can’t feel any lower than they already do.
Sherwood’s tactical naiveté might also be considered, conversely, as a positive, though. Villa have played some dourly defensive football this year, and you would imagine that he would bring a much more gung-ho approach to the side’s strategy. This could give the players more freedom, imbuing them with fresh impetus as they enter the most crucial part of their season. At this stage, goals are the most important thing at the moment (aside from gaining points, of course). Villa fans won’t care how he gets the team scoring, so long as they do.
Sherwood also has an eye for younger players, as a certain Harry Kane might attest to (and look how that worked out). With the finances on lock-down for the foreseeable future, he will have to elevate some of the youth and reserve team players for now. This is very much something that falls into his cache as manager, with youth development appearing prominently on his agenda. This likely stems from his time as Technical Director at Spurs, where he led the Under-21’s in the inaugural U-21 Premier League season, guiding the side to finish top in both group and elite stages. His side eventually lost the league final 3-2 to Man United. If he is able to integrate the likes of Jack Grealish into the starting line-up successfully, he will earn a lot of good will, as well as results, along the way.
This is all unscientific conjecture at this point, of course, but, as he is all too fond of reminding us, Sherwood had a 59% win rate at Spurs. He possessed a much stronger, more talented side then, but if he can take that experience from North London, assuming he’s learned from the mistakes he made during that short spell, then Villa have a good chance of surviving. And, really, that’s all they want from him in the end.