By Martin Cloake
It’s said that in team sport, you win together and you lose together. That doesn’t seem to be the case as far as Tim Sherwood is concerned. Barely had the final whistle sounded after Aston Villa’s 4-0 FA Cup final drubbing at the hands of Arsenal before man-management specialist Sherwood was doling out his special brand of motivation.
“We have a losing mentality,” he told the media. “We need to change some of their mentalities. Because they are quite used to losing football matches, which is not a good habit.”
Being able to identify that losing football matches is not a good habit is one of the qualities that marks out the modern management professional, of course.
“Some of the boys have already been told they won’t be here next year or they can find other clubs,” he said. How well those words must have gone down as the Villa players dealt with one of their darkest hours.
Some – most notably Sherwood himself – would say this is refreshingly straight-talking in a world of bland observations. Others might question exactly what laying in to your own players in public, at least some of whom you’re still going to have to work with next season, achieves.
But enough about the team, because this is – as usual – all about Tim.
“I didn’t need this result to remind me of how much work needs to be done here,” he went on. So he knew Villa would get a stuffing? Well, not exactly.
Lest anyone raise the question of what role the manager and his selection had played, he pointed out that: “I looked at different ways we’ve played against Arsenal in the past and I felt, with the personnel I had, that was the best way to go up against them.”
So that neatly closes off any questioning of whether Sherwood’s tactics or selection could be in any way responsible. It was just down to the players. Not good enough, you see. What can a man do?
It seems that any achievements Sherwood’s teams make are down to him, while any setbacks are down to the players, the club, the chairman, the mentality – anyone but Tim, really. So Villa staying up after looking destined for the drop when Sherwood took over in February is down to Sherwood, but Villa getting a thumping in the FA Cup Final is nothing to do with Sherwood. Let’s hear it for the win ratios!
They say you can’t have it both ways, but Tim Sherwood certainly tries. His trouble is that, rather like Harry Redknapp, the need to incessantly overplay achievements and dismiss anything that could be seen as a mistake means that it’s difficult to give credit where it is due.
At Villa, just as he did in his spell in charge at Tottenham Hotspur, Sherwood has given young players a chance and at times played some refreshingly uncomplicated football that is pleasing on the eye. But his teams have also come up short, particularly defensively, and it’s fair to ask exactly how good he is tactically when his teams come up against better players.
Top-class professional football is a cut-throat world, and in some respects Sherwood, like Redknapp before him, cannot be blamed for seeking to play up and defend his own standing.
But, in a team sport, the incessant self-serving behaviour also grates.