When Tim Sherwood swaggered into Villa Park in February 2015, it’s fair to say he divided opinion amongst fans. Many were won over by his overtly positive approach and welcomed him as a breath of fresh air in stark and welcome contrast to the stale regimes presided over by Paul Lambert and Alex McLeish in recent times. Many, however, remained troubled by his lack of managerial experience and his ironic ‘Tactics Tim’ moniker.
By the end of his curtailed eight month Villa career opinion remained divided although, crucially, not amongst fans. Tim was now unanimously seen as being out of his depth and had puzzled and frustrated the Villa faithful with his bizarre starting line-ups and formations. A talented Villa squad was squandered by Sherwood’s ever increasing desire to distance himself from the summer signings targeted by Aston Villa’s transfer committee. Unfortunately for Sherwood those he ostracised – Amavi, Veretout, Traore, Gil, Ayew – happened to be the most talented members of the squad and the very reasons why Villa fans had approached the new season with real optimism.
Despite the supporter’s singular view of Sherwood’s capabilities, the mainstream media found a different stick, picked it up and decided to use it to beat Villa’s management team. Now, there is certainly a nuanced argument to be made regarding Aston Villa and how poorly the club is run – but the position pushed by the media became over simplified and depicted Sherwood as the wronged good guy and Villa’s management team as the bad guys.
Most of these voices within the media came from ex-football pros intent on looking after their kin. Sherwood is one of their own. Villa’s owner and CEO, Randy Lerner and Tom Fox are not. They are Americans. Businessmen. Not football men. They don’t understand the game.
Suddenly, Sherwood became the media’s poster boy for all young English managers not given a chance by foreign football owners. Suddenly, Sherwood’s awful record with Villa went ignored. Suddenly, Sherwood’s baffling tactics were swept beneath the wave of vitriol aimed at Lerner and Fox.
This media stance was only hardened when Villa appointed an inexperienced French coach, Remi Garde, as their new manager. Again, ex pros and managers came out in the media bemused as to why the untried Garde had been given the job at the expense of other talented British coaches. The questioning of Garde’s appointment followed a now familiar and vaguely xenophobic path. The tired old lines of “not knowing” the Premier League, of not being British, were trotted out as if it was some accepted wisdom that “knowing” the Premier League was a guarantee for success.
And it is this view on managerial appointments that is most puzzling and yet rarely challenged. If a new appointment is not British, from the Premier League or an ex-professional it is generally viewed with great scepticism. Yet there is a welter of evidence to suggest that these factors have no bearing on a person’s aptitude for football management.
To my mind, the pool of British football managers would be a richer place if it included more who had never had a professional playing career in football. The likes of Mark Warburton, Mourinho, Wenger and Klopp have proved that not playing at the highest level is no barrier to a successful career. Maradona, Pele and Tim Sherwood have proved the opposite.
So rather than Tim Sherwood being the poster boy for young English managers, I would like his time at Villa Park to be remembered for what it was. A failure and an example of why the media’s idea of a Premier League manager is ultimately flawed. Managers should only be judged on their individual talents and not their background or playing career. If that means more teams are managed by bankers, accountants and foreigners then so much the better.