Can Tim Sherwood Be Blamed For Villa's Relegation?

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Earlier on the season in February, Tim Sherwood appeared on Match of the Day 2. Arsenal played Leicester, Manchester City hosted Tottenham and Sherwood’s former side Aston Villa faced Liverpool. They lost 6-0. Sherwood played it safe by analysing Liverpool’s movement, Coutinho’s flair and observed how ruthless they were, leaving Murphy to rip into Villa’s passive and lazy players. While Tim Sherwood remarked that Villa were “not looking good” and credited their fans’ commitment and support, there were no pressing questions from host Mark Chapman. No questions of “Do you feel you at fault for Villa’s current position?”, “Did you bring in the right players?” or “Why did you fail to repeat last season’s performances?”, leaving Sherwood to sit comfortably throughout the segment and wait for his next scripted cue. Were the producers asked not to press Tim? Maybe. Did Mark Chapman and Danny Murphy refrain from asking because they did not want to offend him? Possibly. But the big question here that no one seems to be talking about is: why is Tim Sherwood not being criticised for Aston Villa’s relegation?

At the time, Sherwood’s appointment was understandable. Paul Lambert’s reign of the club saw consistently boring and uninspiring performances and Villa needed someone to be the opposite, that man being Tim Sherwood. He is media friendly, bubbly, energetic as well as a man manager and motivator, some qualities that Lambert failed to grasp when he was in charge. The new manager bounce kicked in with Sherwood leading Villa to Premier League safety while also guiding the club on a feel good FA Cup journey. Granted his side lost 4-0 in the final, yet there was enough buzz and optimism that suggested Villa were finally facing reality and counteracting their slow decline towards relegation.

Tim Sherwood needed to prove himself as a Premier League manager, build on the improved performances, mould the team into his own and choose the right players for his squad. Things at first looked promising with over £50 million invested on new players, along with an opening day win over AFC Bournemouth but things started to turn. Four points from Villa’s first 10 games including a six match losing streak led to his sacking and started an irreversible decline that has led to Aston Villa’s relegation.

It was no real surprise to see him sacked when you watch those first ten games. His game management and tactical knowledge was poor and the former Spurs manager seemed indecisive when trying to pick his strongest line up. There were flashes of Sherwood’s style working but they always seemed to rarely occur or were counteracted by his team’s poor decision making. Their collapse from 2-0 ahead against Leicester City to lose 3-2 is an obvious example; coasting after two goals from Jack Grealish and Carlos Gil and a solid team performance, his side failed to react to Leicester’s sudden counter attacks and high pressing and his side crumbled. Any competent manager would slow the game down and kill off any potential comeback but Tim Sherwood failed to make the necessary changes. Just makes you wonder how things would be if Aston Villa never lost that lead at the King Power.

To his credit, he was fully aware of his club’s position to highlight their dire performances but it (as ever) is a classic example of Tactics Tim being all talk but no action. Whenever there were problems within his squad or playing style, he never seemed to react or handle the situation well or figure out a Plan B. If anything, his tenure at Aston Villa fails to boost his repetition as a Premier League manager judging from his inability to change games, set a cohesive tactical strategy or find the right players. He was a part of the transfer committee that bought Rudy Gestede, Micah Richards, Joelon Lescott into the club but still failed to improve the team’s defensive record or fill Christian Benteke’s goalscoring void, giving Villa a soulless and uninspiring identity.

His poor start arguably set Aston Villa down a dangerous route towards relegation with players becoming more dissatisfied and uncaring by the passing weeks, almost accepting relegation as a reality and as a way out of the club, rather than attempting to fight and save their club’s Premier League status. When Tim Sherwood is branded as a great motivator full of inspiring Winston Churchill-lite speeches, that perception comes undone when he cannot drag a struggling side out of danger.

But the more you read into Villa’s dismal season, the more you see why no one seems to have cited Tim Sherwood as a reason for their demise. A transfer committee that deemed Rudy Gestede a worthy replacement of Christian Benteke, backed by a board that were happy to let Ron Vlaar and Andreas Weimann leave and prevented Remi Grade to sign his own players. Not to mention the risky gamble of buying 12 players all in one summer (seven from foreign leagues) and banking on them all settling and becoming instant successes. No wonder the squad morale has been dire, with players showing no interest in preventing the club’s relegation and an apparent disinterest from some staff members (including an amusing but also baffling admission about the scouting department).  The fans have every right to protest against Randy Lerner’s regime considering his lack of expertise, investment in poor players and disinterest in the club, all factors that could cause Aston Villa to join the likes of Leeds United, Derby and Nottingham Forest as former greats struggling in the second tier of English football.

With Aston Villa’s relegation to the Championship, fingers of blame will be pointing at various directions. From top to bottom the club is a mess with poor management, player recruitment, coupled with disinterested players and a naive owner but amongst the problems, Tim Sherwood should carry some blame for Villa’s problems. From his inability to motivate his squad to his lack of tactical knowledge, his actions at the beginning of the season set the Midlands club on a slippery slope towards relegation and helped create a disinterested Aston Villa squad.  Villa’s off pitch troubles make Tim Sherwood’s damage to the club look minimal, yet he cannot surely be safe from criticism or blame.




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