Before the start of the season, casual soccer fans wouldn’t have been able to remember current Tottenham Hotspur manager Tim Sherwood, a former Premier League midfielder who graced the home turf of numerous clubs during his 18-year playing career. In fact, if Andre Villas-Boas had not been sacked just before Christmas, he would be one of the last people on everybody’s mind going into today’s face off with Liverpool at Anfield, camouflaged in the Spurs dugout amidst rows of other coaches and miscellaneous staff. However, as fate would have it AVB was sacked, and Tottenham’s match against Liverpool is being billed as Sherwood’s big game, make or break for the Hertfordshire-born 45-year-old.
It has been 21 matches since he was placed in charge of the Lilywhites, all of which have seen him stand at the very edge of his technical area, assessing with beady eyes the worth and talent of every squad member on the pitch that day. His unexceptional persona is somewhat unique in the world of soccer management, rarely wearing a suit and tie, rarely wearing an expensive coat, usually seen in a simple track suit coupled with the stern facial expression of a man solely focused on the job in hand. Initially, this “no frills” style of doing things was the perfect tonic to Tottenham’s poor form of the time.
Ten Premier League games into Sherwood’s reign saw seven wins and only a single defeat, moving Spurs up in the table from seventh to fifth and earning him a contract to remain at the helm until summer, 2015. It seemed as though the London club had turned their fortunes around just in time to save their season. Back then, it never looked as though Sherwood’s big game would occur when Tottenham were due to face Liverpool at Anfield just a few months later.
That’s when the road started to get bumpy. The honeymoon period ended with an away loss to Norwich in late February, and whilst they managed to scrape through to the Europa League last 16, Portuguese opponents Benfica prevented progression to the semi-finals with a resounding 5-3 aggregate victory over two legs. Elimination from Europe might provide a silver lining if Spurs are able to translate Premier League focus into good competitive results, but successive losses to Chelsea and Arsenal leave them in sixth, one point and a game behind Everton in the last European qualification spot.
Tottenham’s last game did have them fight their way back from 0-2 down to beat Southampton 3-2, possibly signalling a late rally from the squad that could enable them to end the season on a high. If that does prove the case, the Spurs board might be left with enough confidence in Tim Sherwood to allow him the finances required for building a team capable of challenging for the title next season.
One thing is for certain, Sherwood’s big game this afternoon will see Tottenham face Liverpool at Anfield in what will turn out to be a key indicator for Spurs’ prospects come the league finale in May.
Commentary by Zachary John