Why Spurs coach’s survival may offer a clue to Levy’s plans
Tim Sherwood looks set for a prominent role in Tottenham’s new management structure, suggesting that chairman Daniel Levy is keen to refocus on youth development.
When Harry Redknapp left Tottenham last week, he stated that his dismissal had little to do with the failure to qualify for the Champions League – “the same outcome would have happened” if Chelsea had beaten Bayern Munich, he insisted.
The 65-year-old did not outline the precise reasons for his exit but offered the clue that “the club has decided that it wants to go in a different direction with the manager.”
Of course, that is self-evident from the fact that they have decided to appoint a new man.
However, in his own statement, chairman Daniel Levy said: “Harry arrived at the club at a time when his experience and approach was exactly what was needed.”
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The suggestion is that Spurs are now looking for a different ‘approach’ from their manager, and Redknapp’s hint at a ‘new direction’ therefore takes on added significance.
It appears that Tottenham have made a strategic decision with a long-term plan in mind.
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And, while Kevin Bond, Joe Jordan and Clive Allen have all departed along with Redknapp, the fact that Tim Sherwood has survived could provide a valuable clue to Levy’s intentions.
Sherwood is at the core of Spurs’ player development programme and took charge of the Under-19 side that reached the semi-finals of the NextGen Series last season – before the club dropped out due to an accidental breach of the tournament’s regulations.
Levy’s preferences in the transfer market are well-known. He likes to sign young, up and coming talents with a sell-on value – the likes of Aaron Lennon, Tom Huddlestone and Kyle Walker – whereas Redknapp has always stressed the importance of proven, experienced Premier League players such as William Gallas, Scott Parker and Ryan Nelsen.
That difference of opinion was always bubbling away under the surface – and it therefore looks significant that Redknapp has been axed while Sherwood, the youth and development coach or ‘technical co-ordinator’, is thought to be in line for a promotion.
It is probably not a co-incidence that Tottenham are about to move into their new, state-of-the-art training ground – which has been built as much for the academy as the first team.
Indeed, when Spurs announced that building work had begun in Enfield in September 2009, a club statement quoted club captain Ledley King as saying: “Having come through the ranks here at Spurs and understanding the value and importance the club places on developing home-grown talent, this facility will provide a fantastic platform for our academy.”
During his fall from grace since February, Redknapp has increasingly been portrayed as a manager who has little to no interest in promoting youngsters, and is unable to look beyond seasoned veterans.
That is probably unfair. After all, this was the man who surprisingly started Danny Rose against Arsenal in the memorable north London derby at the Lane in April 2010, who handed Jake Livermore 38 appearances last season and has also been accused of playing Kyle Walker too much.
However, if Levy has decided that the time has come to revert to his preferred modus operandi and refocus on developing home-grown talent at the new training complex, then it is understandable that he might not see Redknapp as the man for the job.
The pair were clearly clashing over transfer policy – particularly when it came to handing Parker a four-year deal last summer.
Indeed, one can imagine Levy’s thoughts when Redknapp suggested that he would like to give Nelsen a new deal, and was considering loaning 20-year-old Steven Caulker out for another season, despite his highly impressive campaign at Swansea.
The rumours are that Levy may now return to the continental model that he abandoned to recruit Redknapp – where a director of football handles transfers and works with a head coach.
Sherwood is unlikely to become the director of football, but he is highly regarded at the club. It makes perfect sense for Levy to retain his services given his knowledge of Spurs’ young prospects – and that he might now be asked to work even more closely with the incoming manager of head coach.
By the same token, a focus on player development would point towards the appointment of Andre Villas-Boas, who was famously given a three-year project at Chelsea, with the task of overhauling an ageing squad and ushering in a new generation at Stamford Bridge.
His mission was cut short by Roman Abramovich due to his failure to pick up results in the short-term, but Levy may see his dismissal as a sizeable opportunity rather than a deterrent.
Having been well out of Spurs’ price range a year ago – the Blues paid �13.3million to take Villa-Boas from FC Porto – the 34-year-old is now a free agent.
Levy is now considering giving the Portuguese another shot at a three-year rebuilding project, which is likely to involve planning for life after the star man Luka Modric.
Blanc has also been in the picture, having spent the last two years overseeing a changing of the guard with France after their humiliating 2010 World Cup campaign.
However, he is expected to sign a new contract with Les Bleus when his current deal expires at the end of Euro 2012, leaving Villas-Boas as Tottenham’s top target.
Levy’s desire to begin a new generation at Spurs and lower the age of the squad would certainly explain why Nelsen has been allowed to depart for QPR, despite the absence of a manager.
It would also explain the uncertainty surrounding Ledley King’s future, and whether he will be offered a new playing contract, and the anticipated arrival of Ajax’s 25-year-old captain Jan Vertonghen
Of course, the idea of a new dawn at Tottenham, with a younger, fresher squad and a renewed commitment to producing home-grown players, has certain attractions.
However, Villas-Boas’ time at Chelsea proved that overseeing such a regeneration can be a tricky business, and that it can have a detrimental effect on a team’s fortunes in the short-term.
Levy never managed to marry his director of football model and youth development policy with a top-four finish and, while the chairman may have been opposed to aspects of Redknapp’s ‘approach’, it did secure two fourth-placed finishes in three years.
Indeed, it is worth recalling Redknapp’s words in July 2009, shortly after the arrivals of Walker and Kyle Naughton.
“We just took two kids from Sheffield United and we want young players, but at the end of the day it’s all about your first team,” he said. “You need experience and people who are going to go out and win football matches.
“It’s no good saying ‘well we’re going to be a good team in four years’, because I probably won’t be here. That’s not how the game works, you need a team.
“If we can find a couple of young players we’ll be first in the queue. We’re looking for young talent, and we’re looking to find young players who will play here for years to come. But that can mean bringing in an experienced player to pull all of them together.
“But there’s no problem with the chairman on that front. He brought me here as the manager and he knows I’ve got a bit of an idea what I’m doing, so he backs me.”
The intimation was clear – Spurs had previously failed to qualify for the Champions League because they were always looking to the future, never focusing on the present, and Redknapp changed that.
Tottenham may now be heading in a “new direction” with a different approach to Redknapp’s but, if they forget their departing manager’s lesson and forget the here and now entirely, that direction may be downwards.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs