The Man Manager
The biggest impact that Sherwood has made so far, however, has been with the players.
Sherwood quickly realised that he must get the best out of the clubs prize asset, Christian Benteke if Villa were to avoid relegation. The Belgian striker had been horribly wasted by Lambert who ignored calls to sign an attacking midfielder or winger to provide him with assists. Lambert had oddly claimed that teams don’t play with wingers anymore and had refused to countenance the idea of changing his approach of using Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann in wide positions. As a result, Benteke became starved of service, isolated and frustrated.
[quote_center]‘Lambert collected a list of negative club records as long as the Magna Carta’[/quote_center]
Even before he began work as a manager, Sherwood signalled his intention to build the team around Benteke and give the ball to him as much as possible. Utilising Benteke’s strength and technical ability also brought midfielders into play and enhanced the team’s effectiveness.
Initially, the manager played Agbonlahor up with the Belgian striker to occupy defenders and share the burden of scoring goals. However, now that Benteke has regained confidence and is regularly scoring goals again there is no need to continue playing with two strikers and Sherwood has sensibly reverted to playing with two wingers, Grealish and N’Zogbia, in recent matches.
Sherwood could be seen mobbing Benteke up in early games and patting his chest excitedly as the striker slowly returned to form and the new manager’s energy and passion must have had an impact on Benteke who is now playing with more intensity than he did under Lambert.
Sherwood would be forgiven for focusing on the first team in the remaining thirteen games as he was hired to save the club from relegation. Impressively, however, the new manager has approached the job as if he expects to be manager for a long time. Pathways have been cleared for academy players to be promoted to the first team and the Under-21 team now train next to the first team squad and regularly make up the numbers in practice matches. This approach has lifted the atmosphere around the club as youth players excitedly post photographs of themselves on instagram training in front of the new manager.
The Under-21 team used to be the place where Lambert dumped his discarded ‘bomb squad’ players but the divide has been lifted by Sherwood who wants everyone to train closely together.
Jack Grealish represents the stylish face of Sherwood’s academy policy and the manager placed great trust in the youngster by giving him his first start in the hugely important fixture against QPR.
Lambert had belittled Grealish in recent seasons by calling him a ‘baby’ and had questioned the winger’s ability to withstand the physical demands of the Premier League or cope with the pressure of a relegation battle. Grealish can feel vindicated by his recent performances and he has repaid Sherwood’s faith in him with a sublime performance against Liverpool at Wembley, which helped Aston Villa reach the FA Cup final.
The Villa manager exhibited excellent man management skills by substituting Grealish to a standing ovation shortly before the full-time whistle which allowed the youngster to soak up the adulation of fans. As Grealish left the field, Sherwood gave the youngster a paternal hug and a kiss in gratitude.
Benteke and Grealish are not the only players to have benefitted from Sherwood’s appointment as other players have improved tremendously such as Cleverley and Delph, who rarely offered a goal threat under Lambert. In ten games under the new manager the former Bradford academy boys have now scored four goals and an assist between them and are making the sort of runs they were either too afraid or too uninspired to make under Lambert. The manager has also helped Leandro Bacuna to develop his game as a right-back and in recent matches Ashley Westwood has stepped up his performances to match the intensity and drive of Delph and Cleverley.
In answer to the initial quote, has Sherwood inspired others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more? The answer is unquestionably yes.
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