Tim Sherwood was finally told to grab his gilet and leave after just 254 days in charge of Villa following the 2-1 home defeat to Swansea on Saturday. Use of the word ‘finally’ after merely eight months may seem a tad over the top, especially given his impact in the final months of last season, but in truth the dismissal had been coming after a long string of horribly sub-par results.
Here’s a look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Sherwood’s time in charge of Villa.
However much blame you choose to attribute to the former Spurs boss for the way things have started for the club this season, there can be no doubt that he had a major influence on the players and the results in the final months of a desperate campaign last season. When he arrived at Bodymoor Heath in Febuary, Villa had won two of their previous 21 league matches and were in the relegation zone on goal difference.
Despite losing his first two, Sherwood’s Villa kickstarted their quest for survival with the double victory over West Brom and the 4-0 thrashing of Sunderland as they won seven of their next 11 matches in all competitions after the defeat at St. James’ Park.
Not only should Sherwood take the majority of the credit for leading the club to survival with three points to spare when all hope looked lost, but he also gave the club’s fans two of the greatest days to be a Villa supporter in recent times (admittedly, there have been precious few to choose from) with the 2-0 FA Cup quarter-final victory at Villa Park over local rivals West Brom and the sensational 2-1 win over the media darling that was the Steven Gerrard-led Liverpool in the semi-final at Wembley.
That Wembley win was the best performance that I can remember from my club in years, driven by the key duo of Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph, and a platform for the emerging talent of Jack Grealish to showcase his ability.
Gutted , thank you for everything 😔 pic.twitter.com/coIpMPdxFq
— Jack Grealish (@JackGrealish1) October 25, 2015
Grealish is another thing that Villa owe Sherwood for; his talent was clear for fans to see under the latter months of Paul Lambert’s reign, but where the Scotsman stubbornly refused to give the then-teenager his opportunity, Sherwood took him under his wing and allowed him to blossom.
The bond between player and manager was clear to see when the midfielder ran to his manager to celebrate his first goal for his boyhood club in the defeat to Leicester City earlier this season, and Grealish summed that feeling up in a heartfelt tweet upon the news of Sherwood’s sacking.
It may have been after Villa had all but secured their top-flight safety, but things went badly downhill after the home win over West Ham United on 9 May. Villa had an opportunity to pull up towards mid-table with a trip to Southampton and a home clash on the final day against already-relegated Burnley, before a first FA Cup final in 15 years to look forward to.
Instead, Sherwood’s side lost their last three games of the season by an aggregate score of 11-1. They suffered total humiliation in the 6-1 defeat to Southampton, in which they were 5-0 down after 38 minutes and conceded the fastest hat-trick in Premier League history; endured a torrid 1-0 reverse against the relegated Clarets; and their big day was spoiled in demoralising fashion with a lifeless non-performance in a 4-0 defeat to an admittedly far superior Arsenal side at Wembley.
Losing Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph in the summer undoubtedly made Sherwood’s job that much harder, but this summer he had a chance to build his own squad.
For all the talk of low net spend, over £50m was shelled out in total on 11 first-team players, and though a revamped squad undoubtedly takes time to gel, the result has just not been good enough.
When Villa won 1-0 at Bournemouth on the opening day thanks to a debut goal from Rudy Gestede, there was a temptation to believe that all would be right with the Villa world this season – that we would enjoy a drama-free campaign comfortable in mid-table and we’d be able to get the cigar and the newspaper out by March.
Then, after an excusable loss to Manchester United, came the inexcusable submission to Crystal Palace, the failure to see out victory against an abject Sunderland (an abject Sunderland who have just sent us to the bottom of the Premier League table), the simply horrendous collapse from 2-0 up to a 3-2 defeat at Leicester, the lifeless 1-0 home defeat to West Brom. The list goes on.
Back to the present and Villa have taken one point from a possible 27 since the opening-day victory, losing eight of the last nine and the last six games in a row. Sherwood bought himself time by scraping past Birmingham City in the League Cup, after we’d scraped past League One Notts County in the previous round, but there was simply no sign whatsoever that he was getting any closer to turning things around.
Perhaps the biggest nail in the coffin was that so many of these defeats were due in no small part to Sherwood’s tactical shortcomings. Playing just one genuine central midfielder against Swansea was the latest in a long line of blunders symptomatic of a manager who was simply yet to prove that he knew what he was doing with his team selection.
His rhetoric began to echo more and more of the uninspired mumblings of Lambert in the Scot’s final months in charge, offering no explanation for the collapse that had unfolded in front of him and repeatedly pushing back the estimated time of arrival of a change in fortunes.
At the end of last season, Sherwood promised fans that, given a summer to put together his own squad, we would not be faced with such dire straits this campaign. After a handful of abysmal defeats to start 2015-16, he changed tack abruptly and said that we needed to ride out another season of woe before things could get better.
Admittedly, the exits of Benteke and Delph had an effect on this, and in the 48 hours or so since Sherwood’s departure there have been numerous reports in the national media making reference to a marked decline in his relationship with the board, in particular over Tom Fox’s decision to appoint the CEO’s ex-Arsenal colleague Hendrik Almstadt as sporting director.
Playing just one genuine central midfielder against Swansea was the latest in a long line of blunders
The manager was reportedly unhappy with some of the club’s signings in the summer, as he alluded to through a very thin veil indeed a few weeks ago. How much truth there is in that is difficult to know, but one thing is for sure: once a manager starts to become critical of his club’s transfer policy, the fuse is lit.
You could argue that it should have been Lerner, Fox etc leaving instead of Sherwood, but that would be to display a rather naïve view of football as we know it today. In a choice between those in control of a football realising and accepting that the time is right to move on and (pertinently, given the struggles of the last two summers) finding willing and proper replacements in the boardroom, or simply removing the man who spends every day with his squad but still picks the wrong team every week, there will only be one outcome.
All we can hope for is that the club’s next appointment is better than recent history suggests it will be.
Follow Tom on Twitter – @tdnightingale
Follow MOMS on Twitter – @oldmansaid