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May 13, 2014

Spurs reach crucial point

ESPN FC's Janusz Michallik recaps what went wrong with Tim Sherwood and Tottenham as the 2 sides part ways.
The worst-kept secret is out. The only surprise about the sacking of Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood was its timing. Spurs have a long history of bodging their dismissals to maximise the damage to the club, and experienced Daniel Levy watchers rather expected the Sherwood saga to drag on well into the summer.

- Report: Sherwood leaves Tottenham

It's hard not to feel some sympathy for Sherwood. He was hastily parachuted into the job in November when the board got a bit desperate after realising it wasn't going to get any of the replacements for Andre Villas-Boas it had in mind, and he never really had the board's backing. Despite the 18-month contract, it was obvious to everyone that Sherwood was only a short-term appointment and would be gone within six months.

It wasn't a situation of his making and -- despite his increasingly eccentric news conferences as the season drew to a close -- it wasn't Sherwood's fault that the season limped to a tame anticlimax, with most players looking as if they had chosen to go on holiday sometime in March. In terms of results, Sherwood actually did rather better than anyone had any right to expect, given his experience. Had the team played with any coherence or ambition while achieving those results, then Sherwood might even have found himself given a stay.

But if Sherwood was to go, it was far better for him to go quickly. For once, Spurs have shown themselves to be ahead of the game, rather than reacting to it. That Levy has moved quickly is also indicative of just how critical the situation had become. The fans' disenchantment with the team's performances has been at its highest since the misery years of the late '90s; had it gone on much longer, the calls for Levy's own removal would have become hard to ignore. The lack of leadership both on and off the pitch has tested supporters' loyalties to the limit over the past six months.

Of even greater concern to Levy, though, were the players. Many had stopped really bothering to try once they realised Sherwood was a stopgap. It wasn't particularly professional of them -- indeed it was a real kick in the teeth to the fans who turned out to watch them week in, week out -- but it was entirely predictable. And it was a boil that needed to be lanced. With no clarity to the Sherwood situation, Levy would have found it much harder to retain the services of those players, such as Hugo Lloris and Jan Vertonghen, whom he actually wants to stay. Sacking Sherwood sends a clear message that the club does mean business. That it expects to improve. Whether it's too late or not is another matter.

Getting rid of Sherwood was the easy bit. Finding his replacement is where the real work is. Mauricio Pochettino is the clear favourite at the moment, and as it looks as if Southampton will be without both Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw next season, he could well be tempted by the move. But he is still a gamble. His record is good, but not that good. There's also the chance that Frank de Boer and Rafael Benitez might be in the frame. Spurs fans would welcome either, but would they want to come and work at Spurs? Working with Levy might put a number of potential managers off. And then there's the Spurs effect: turning managers who have been half-decent elsewhere into also-rans on the N17. Watch this space.