Reputations hanging in the balance at Villa Park

 Football - Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United

There are plenty with a point to prove as the former Spurs man takes over from Paul Lambert…

You may already be aware, but Tim Sherwood does in fact hold the record for the highest win % of any Tottenham manager in the Premier League era. Higher than his predecessor, Andres Villas-Boas, by a whopping 5.4%. Higher than Martin Jol, too.

Sherwood also has a better PL win % at Tottenham than Harry Redknapp, the man who guided Spurs to the coveted fourth position in the league on two occasions.

But you probably knew that already. It was no secret.

From that statistical viewpoint, it might be fair to say that Sherwood could be considered a downright success as Tottenham boss. He won five of his first six Premier League games as manager, straight off the back of a 5-0 home defeat by Liverpool, which ended the short reign of Villas-Boas.

He even reinvigorated the erratic, disinterested Emanuel Adebayor, who had vanished during the tenure of AVB. Sherwood gave Harry Kane his first Premier League start. Another axiomatic success.

Yet despite all these compelling positives, it is hard to believe that Sherwood really changed Tottenham for the better. His brand of blood, sweat and tears football and his adherence to 4-4-2 didn’t damage the club, but it didn’t catapult it forward either.

AVB was sacked with Tottenham in seventh position and eight points off Arsenal at the top of the table. Tottenham, under Sherwood, finished the season one place higher in sixth, 10 points off Arsenal in fourth and 17 points of Manchester City in first.

There was never a sustained Champions League push, unlike many previous years. There were humiliating thrashings, too. A 5-1 defeat at home to City, a 4-0 away to defeat to Chelsea and a 4-0 mauling at Anfield.

Tottenham were beaten 2-0 at the Emirates in the third round of the cup. They were beaten at home by West Ham at home in the Quarter-finals of the League Cup, shortly after Sherwood was placed in charge. They were undone by Benfica in the last 16 of the Europa League.

The fortunes of Spurs didn’t take a drastic turn upwards.

This is not meant as a scathing personal attack on Sherwood himself, either. There were good wins during his reign too. It is worth pointing out he took the Spurs under 21’s to the final off the inaugural under-21 PL crown as Technical Director of the club.

He may turn out to be exactly what Villa need.

But Randy Lerner isn’t appointing a proven winner, or a proven loser for that matter. He is appointing a managerial rookie.

This is Tim Sherwood’s first sustained chance to prove his worth, and he could do with a few of his new players following suit.

Villa’s malaise has lasted too long now. It has lasted long enough for this to be their fourth relegation battle on the spin and perhaps the most perilous yet. 

It may be down to Randy Lerner’s lack of interest, his insistence on selling the club, but you sense there is more to the Villa Park conundrum than just that.

Villa haven’t exactly been afraid of spending money in recent times. Players such as Christian Benteke, Carlos Sanchez, Leandro Bacuna, Jores Okore, Libor Kozak, Ron Vlaar, Ashley Westwood and the forgotten Charles N’Zogbia have all cost substantial money.

Yet a sense of mediocrity has pervaded the club since the reign of Alex McLeish and continued under fellow Scot Lambert, with the empty blue seats painting their own story.

Both left with a win percentage under 30%, and Lambert’s team became so hopeless in front of goal towards the end that they basically gave up on the notion of scoring altogether.

But the fault can’t simply lie with McLeish and Lambert, as dour as their sides seemed to be. It has come to the point where many of Villa’s players either have to prove their worth, or risk ruining their careers once and for all.

Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark are both young centre halves still learning their trade, but they must begin to eradicate their error-strewn ways.

Fabian Delph, Ashley Westwood and Tom Cleverly must all develop a method that allows them to contribute to Villa’s attacking play, whether it be a goal or an assist. Their collective failure to help Villa create something that isn’t a counter attack has weighed the team down heavily.

Tom Cleverly, exiled from Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United, looks a lost soul in a struggling midfield, haunted by his ultimate failure at Old Trafford. His creative output has simply deteriorated.

Charles N’Zogbia, hampered by injuries and a lack of form, is still yet to shine at Villa Park since he joined in 2011. Andreas Weimann’s career has begun to stall, as has Leandro Bacuna’s.

 There won’t be many strikers envious of Benteke, whose indifferent form is intrinsically linked to Villa’s all-round lack of attacking threat. The Belgian may be hoping a good few months under Sherwood will help him escape the bowels of Villa Park.

Scott Sinclair, who barely played a minute under Manuel Pellegrini, has joined on loan and adds to the growing list of players looking to resurrect their careers under the new boss.

In his short time as manager, Tim Sherwood has generated a fair bit of debate. There are some who clearly take to his up and at ‘em style, believing he possesses the tools to become a worthy man manager, a man who can give under-performers the hunger to play again.

There are others who like to look beyond supercilious bravado, and the talk of win percentages.

The truth is; neither side really knows how good a manager Sherwood will be. A prolonged spell at Aston Villa, a club which has fallen on tough times, is the best way for us all to find out.

His own self-belief is the only thing not in doubt. 

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