Thursday 6 August 2015

Van Gaal's Blind spot

Is Louis Van Gaal cutting his oddly shaped nose off to spite his face over Daley Blind?

Louis Van Gaal has certainly given Manchester United fans a lot of surprises during his time at the club. Be they welcome, such as the resuscitation of the careers of Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young from the murky depths of the Moyes Loch, or less so, like having Phil Jones take corners, the man certainly cannot be second-guessed.

But there have been many indications recently that Manchester United fans are in for a surprise of the latter variety come Saturday’s visit from Tottenham. For all the club’s positive moves this transfer window, the club are yet to sign a new centre back, despite the squad having been crying out for a leader in this position for years. With transfer deadline fast approaching, Van Gaal has all but confirmed his belief that the answer to United’s long-standing defensive issues could come from within the club, through fellow Dutchman Daley Blind.

Out of all of Van Gaal’s repositionsings, of which many have been unsuccessful, Daley Blind as a centre back makes the least sense. Though Blind has had pockets of good form playing as a left back, he does not have the pace nor physicality to play in the heart of defence at any Premier League club, never mind one supposedly challenging for the title. To imagine him breaking into Chelsea, Arsenal or even Manchester City’s defensive pairing would be laughable.

So why does Van Gaal fancy Blind at centre back?

As with all his strange decisions, it seems to boil down to his fixation with the "philosophy” that he wants United to play to. Blind does admittedly fit into this, as Van Gaal wants one left footed centre back to enable easier distribution from the back. For the same reason, the fact that Blind is one of the more technically gifted defenders in the United squad also helps his cause.

However, if better distribution from the back alone is the reason for Blind’s starting spot at centre half, then the decision is a shocking one. Following the signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger, United now have two players who like to sit deep in front of the back four, offering excellent distribution from deep inside their own half and therefore eliminating the need of a ball playing centre back. Michael Carrick, who is also expected to start against Spurs on Saturday, can easily fill the role that  Blind has been drafted in for, albeit from a holding midfield position.

Even more bafflingly, United already have two natural centre backs who are comfortable with their left feet in Johnny Evans and Marcos Rojo. Although neither are the ideal solution to United’s centre back problem, their deficiencies in this role are not quite as extreme as Blind’s.

Blind does not convince as a centre back

So what exactly are these deficiencies that make Blind’s selection such a crime?

Firstly, Blind’s lack of physicality immediately makes him suspect as a centre back. He is average in the air by any positions’ standard, and in the heart of defence aerial prowess is a necessity, not a luxury. Physical strikers, such as Diego Costa and Harry Kane (whom Blind will likely be facing on Saturday), dream of going toe to toe against a defender of Blind’s stature, and teams who can create a physical mismatch against him are likely to find joy.

Blind’s lack of pace is also a major concern. Though he has the positional sense at full back to make up for this, his lack of experience at centre-back means that he will inevitably make positional errors. This was evident to anyone who watched United’s recent defeat to Paris St Germain in Chicago. Though pacier players have some room for positional error that allows them to cover for their inexperience (Hector Bellerin is a fine example of this), Blind certainly does not have such a luxury.

The simple fact is you will be hard pressed to find a Premier League side who do not have a forward that can either easily outmuscle our outpace Daley Blind. Some clubs may indeed have players who can do both. This offers opposition sides a free invite to attack United, something that a club which is still trying to regain their “fear factor” from a few seasons ago needs to avoid.

As mentioned above, Saturday brings a big test for Louis Van Gaal’s selection of  Blind in the heart of United’s defence. In Harry Kane, Spurs have a player who will not only be the favourite in aerial battles against Blind, but who also has the intelligence to drag the inexperienced centre-back out of position, and the directness to run at him whenever the opportunity arises.

Though the Old Trafford faithful will not be satisfied with anything less than a win at home to Spurs, one does hold the slight hope that Kane and company will expose Blind’s unsuitability at the central defensive role, prompting Van Gaal to take one last dip in the transfer market.

However, with United putting all their defensive eggs in one basket with their tireless, but inevitably futile attempt to sign Sergio Ramos, one does worry that any attempt to patch up the defence will prove to be to little to late, with potential targets getting dearer by the minute, and time to bed them in running out.

United fans will still be hoping that Van Gaal can spring one more pleasant surprise before September.

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Watford- Premier League Guinea Pigs

Gino Pozzo's ownership has made Watford one of the most intriguing clubs in the Premier League this season

With Bournemouth’s meteoric rise from the brink of dissolution to the summit of English football dominating the column inches with regards to newly promoted clubs, it seems that we have been overlooking the introduction of one of the most unorthodoxly run clubs in England to the Premier League- Watford.

Whereas some English clubs, notably Tottenham and Newcastle, have adopted aspects of the “continental” approach to running a club, where an owner, Director of Football or some other high level committee controls the biggest decisions at the club, including player recruitment, leaving the traditional manager a marginalised and dispensable figure, Watford have taken this approach to the extreme. Typified by their turnover of five managers in a season where they gained promotion to the Premier League, The Hornets appear to be making a success of a style shunned by the English footballing intelligentsia. Their thriving in the merciless glare of the top flight could lead to a change in England’s approach to how a football club is ideally run.

Watford’s innovative leap began in the summer of 2012 with their takeover by the Pozzo Family, who also owned Italian and Spanish sides Udinese and Grenada from 1986 and 2009 respectively. Whilst the family’s most active member, Gino Pozzo, certainly takes a more hands on approach than most Premier League owners, there is at least a clear and well functioning method to his approach, which has brought about great success.

The Pozzos’ general strategy centres round investing heavily in global scouting networks to prize talented young players relatively cheaply and then to sell them on for large profits. Barring few others, Udinese are the worlds best at this, having had players such a Fabio Quagliarella, Kwadwo Asamoah and Alexis Sanchez drive European finishes in recent seasons, before departing to huge transfer fees. As a result, Udinese maintained financial security during an era of famine in Serie A whilst managing to consistently secure top half finishes and feature in both the Champions and Europa Leagues. Clearly, if Watford could match anywhere near that then fans will be overjoyed.

The family’s other club, Granada, have also enjoyed relative success since their new ownership in 2009, leveraging their partnership with Udinese to gain promotion to La Liga for the first time since the mid 70s in the 2012/13 season maintaining that position. However Gino Pozzo himself has indicated that he wants Watford to match the success of his Italian club, rather than his Spanish one:

“If you look at the recent history of Watford the project was: we need to sell all our best players as soon as an offer comes because there weren’t the financial resources to hold on to them. Now the idea is to move the club to a different level where the player himself feels there are very few choices that are better. We want those choices to come down to Barcelona, Real Madrid and so on. The players who leave Udinese are moving to AC Milan, Inter, Juventus or a couple of clubs in Spain and a few clubs in England.”

However, there are some drawbacks of the Pozzo’s ownership structure that may furrow a few brows at Vicarage Road.

First and most obviously is their tendency to rotate players around their three clubs. Though loaning players such as Matej Vydra from Udinese has been key in securing Watford’s promotion to the Premier League, such an approach does threaten continuity at the club. The Pozzo’s ownership is one based on constant change, adaption and moving forward; however fears that, should Watford struggle, Udinese may get the pick of the better players, are not completely unfounded.

The second, and more substantial, fear is that differences between Italian and English football would mean that Udinese’s successes in Serie A may not be able to be translated to the Premier League.

For starters, many of the players who have defined Udinese under the Pozzo family, such as their biggest success story Alexis Sanchez, had been drafted in at a young age from South America. UK footballing work permit laws would prevent many of these deals from happening for Watford, greatly limiting the effectiveness on an strategy based around thorough global scouting networks in England.

Indeed, we are already beginning to see the worrying consequences of this barrier to securing young talent in Watford’s transfer dealings this summer. Rather than bringing in prodigious talent, Watford have sought after out of favour players who still have the past track record to suggest that they could make an impact beyond the fees spent for them. Valon Behrami and Etienne Capoue typify this type of signing.

Etienne Capoue- hardly Alexis Sanchez

The risk here is that the “hunger of youth” factor which so evidently propelled Udinese forward may be lost on this Watford side. The fact that new manager Quique Flores has come recently after a stint in the Middle East may further suggest that Watford are not running in as a forward thinking manner as their Italian sister.

Further concerns lie in more footballing matters. What kept Watford in promotion contention throughout their managerial influxes were an endless supply of goals. Their three strikers scored over 15 goals each, and this factor alone made success near inevitable. However with the side now going into most games on the back foot, and new manager favouring a system with a loan striker, one must be concerned whether this strength will carry through into the coming season. Though captain Troy Deeney is certainly Premier League quality, Vydra struggled at this level with West Brom recently and it will be Odion Oghalo’s first season in any top flight.

But perhaps what makes Watford fans most fearful, and what makes this club most intriguing, is that their approach has routinely failed in every other implementation in English football. Their 10 summer signings seems incredibly “Spursy”, Etienne Capoue could have just as easily been an overpaid QPR “bad egg” and the mere thought of five different managers in a season makes the orifice on any stadium seat pucker. But the Pozzos have had unmitigated success in all their footballing ventures.

Should they succeed on the most lucrative stage of all then it will be as an against the odds victory as any newly promoted side.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

Eredivisie to The Premier League: 2015/16

With Holland being a constant production line of talent, here is a profiling of the players making a move from the Eredivisie to the Premier League this current season.

Memphis Depay: PSV to United- £25 million

The new Ronaldo?
By far the most high profile and expensive move across the North Sea, Memphis (as he likes to be referred to as) arrives at Manchester United with huge reputation following a season where he scored 22 Eredivisie goals, thereby cementing his status as one of the most exciting young players in the world.

Though he was primarily deployed by PSV as a left-winger that cuts in on his right foot, it is being suggested that Memphis may well be groomed as the eventual heir to Wayne Rooney as the man to lead the line at United, a rumour that has been strengthened by the fact that he has been handed the number 9 shirt for preseason games. For now, however, it is likely that he will compete with Ashley Young for the left wing spot in Van Gaal’s 4-3-3, as well as backing up Wayne Rooney up top.

Memphis will have to deal with the pressure of making a step up to a club of United’s stature, particularly with comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo being made by sections of the Old Trafford faithful, due to his trickery and eye for the spectacular. However, his most impressive trait that he shares with Ronaldo is his obsessive desire to fulfil his immense potential and to improve day in and day out. It is this factor, beyond all else, which persuaded Van Gaal to part with £25 million for the 21 year old.

Georginio Wijnaldum: PSV to Newcastle United- £14.5 million

Coup of the season

With Ligue 1 long being Newcastle Chief Scout Tony Carr’s quarry for bargains, the capture of Wijnaldum may be the start of a shift of focus towards trawling the Eredivisie for additions to Mike Ashley’s investment portfolio. This is because even at £14.5 million, a sizable transfer fee for Newcastle United’s standards, Wijnaldum has to be one of the coups of the season, as is the player’s immense quality.

Not many can claim to have captained their club to a league and cup double at 24 but this, alongside having been a regular starter for the Dutch national team for several years now are but two feathers in Wijnaldum’s cap. More impressively still has been the fact that he has excelled in a number of roles during his short career, including the right wing, central midfield and number 10 positions, emphasising both his completeness as a player and his professional attitude. He has however stated that his favoured position is playing just off the striker, and there may be concerns that he, Siem De Jong and Moussa Sissoko may cause an overload in one position for Newcastle.

Questions may also be raised in why a player who has achieved so much in the last two years on both the domestic, European and international stage has moved to Newcastle United. One certainly hopes that his relatively modest destination ensures that he remains a regular first team starter as his presence should be a real treat for Premier League fans (except maybe Sunderland ones).

Jordy Clasie: Feyenoord to Southampton-£8 million

Same age as Ed Woodward it seems

A player who has followed in the footsteps of Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic in following Ronald Koeman from the Eredivisie to the Premier League, Saints fans will certainly be hoping that Jordy Clasie can emulate the success of his new teammates. Given his most recent season at Feyenoord, they certainly have every reason to be hopeful.

A defensive midfielder, Claise has seemingly been signed to take the place of Morgan Schniederlin, although he is by no means a like for like replacement for the Frenchman. At 5”7 and resembling a 12 year old boy, Clasie lacks Schniederlin’s physical presence. Although he more than makes up for this with his tenacity (cue a lazy comparison to Edgar Davids) it will be interesting to see how he handles the step up in physicality that the Premier League presents him with.

Where Clasie does offer an improvement to Schniederlin is in his technique and intelligence. He is one of those players like Michael Carrick or Xavi who always seems to have time on the ball and can dictate play to a level that belies his 24 years.

Though he is a shy and introverted character who displayed nerves when he came onto the scene at both club and international level, his close relationship with Koeman should ensure that Clasie does not disappoint Southamption fans—that is until Liverpool or Manchester United inevitably utilise their newest feeder club.

Cuco Martina: Twente to Southampton- £1.5 million

First Curacao international in the Premier League- good pub quiz answer

While certainly the less exciting Southampton import from the Eredivisie, Cuco Martina may yet play an important role for the Saints this season, particularly given their involvement in the notoriously squad-stretching Europa League this year.

The player had an unremarkable season in what was a poor campaign for FC Twente last season, and it is his versatility rather than his individual quality which likely brought him to St Marys. He is a natural right back but can play anywhere across the back four or in defensive midfield. Though he is unlikely to start regularly in any of these positions, barring injuries to teammates, he may yet prove to be an important signing following the departures of Nathanial Clyne and Toby Alderweireld. Don’t expect fireworks though.

Steven Berghuis: AZ Alkmaar to Watford- £4.5 million

Berghuis: exciting but is he tough enough?

A free scoring winger who had a trial at Chelsea and Tottenham as a youngster, Steven Berghuis is a player that AZ fans will certainly miss following his 11 goals for them last year

Despite this, there are some concerns about his suitability in joining a club like Watford. Although he is by no means a lazy player, he may well prove to be too lightweight to be effective in a team regularly playing on the back foot in games, and although he has the creativity to unlock defences in tight games, he is by no means complete enough to carry a struggling team.

In short, his personal success may be heavily predicated on the success of the Watford project as a whole. If they can thrive in the Premier League continuing their attacking style, Hornets fans are in for an exciting prospect as he certainly compliments this strategy. However, in games where Watford need to sacrifice inspiration for perspiration Berghuis may well be the fall guy.

Kristoffer Nordfeldt: Heerenveen to Swansea- £800k

Too good for the bench?

Though not likely to be a starter ahead of Lukas Fabianski, especially considering the Pole’s fine form last season, Swansea’s signing of Kristoffer Nordfeldt is a further example of the value that can be found in the Eredivisie this window.

The goalkeeper was Heerenveen’s player of the season last campaign, keeping 10 clean sheets and making the most amount of saves out of everyone in the league. He will certainly be one of the better second choice goalkeepers in the Premier League this coming season, despite being one of the least expensive. If Fabianski were to suffer an injury or dip in form Nordfeldt would certainly offer a solid replacement and may prove hard to dislodge, particularly given the fact that his ability with the ball of his feet endears himself to Swansea’s possession based style.

For now, however, it is likely that the principal of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” means that Nordfeldt will begin this coming season on the bench.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Van Gaal’s toughest transfer

Manchester United have impressed so far this transfer window, but still face a major challenge

It’s safe to say that Manchester United fans will be happy with their clubs business in the transfer window so far. The additions of Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin mean that, for the first time in a long time, United can go toe to toe in central midfield with any club in the Premier League, whilst captures of Memphis Depay and Matteo Darmian have also got fans drooling over their flair and reliability respectively.

Though the longstanding problem positions of central midfield and right back may have been solved this summer, Van Gaal still clearly has to plug more gaps in the United squad if they are to challenge for honours next season. Though a leading centre back is one role that needs such recruiting, a far tougher challenge is the signing of a striker who can provide reliable cover for Wayne Rooney now he has been given full responsibility for leading the line at United.

Whilst a second choice striker may not be the most high profile role in a squad, two factors about Van Gaal’s system at United make it a near impossible role to fill adequately.

The first of these factors has to do with Van Gaal’s adoption a 4-3-3 at United. Despite it merits, the formation does have the tendency to leave its solitary centre forward isolated, a problem which is further exacerbated by Van Gaal’s preference to have his players stick to their positions rather than to roam around in an attempt to find the ball. Therefore, to successfully make an impact as a centre forward in this formation a striker needs to be in one of two moulds.

The first of these is the bullish mould: a striker who can impact the game even when isolated, either through the pressing and bullying of centre backs even when he doesn’t have the ball and/or through being such a goal scoring threat that defenders cannot keep their eyes of him for a second—with or without the ball. Rooney and Luis Suarez typify this type of striker and its no coincidence that they have both successfully led the line in a 4-3-3, whilst many others have failed.

Luis Suarez: A bullish striker who can spearhead a 4-3-3

The second type of striker that can be successfully deployed in this role is the zeitgeisty “false 9”, an unorthodox striker who roams around the final and middle thirds of the pitch, contributing to several phases of play to both score and lay on goals for teammates. A good “false 9” needs to be as proficient in setting up goal scoring chances as finishing them and also requires the intelligence to know when to roam deeper and when to hold their position to ensure their team are not outnumbered in attack. Francesco Totti and Lionel Messi are two players who can play this position well. Due to the massive demands of this position there have been a lot more trainwrecks in it than success stories for the "false 9" as players fail to strike the balance between being a creative force and a goal scorer.

The key point here is that both centre forward roles in a 4-3-3 require an incredibly complete footballer to play them. As they will not be spoon fed the ball in the way a striker playing off of a dedicated number 10 or with a strike partner may be, they need to be able to create their own chances or contribute more to their team than just goals, but not at the expense of goal scoring itself. A striker who cannot do this simply will not work in a 4-3-3, and it is this stringent role criteria which has seen the likes Robin Van Persie banished from the club.

So, if the first factor that makes the second choice striker berth such a hard one to fill at United is the difficulty of the role itself, then the second factor that makes this such a tough recruitment mission is that a second choice striker at United will never be more than second choice. Whether it be due to Van Gaal’s undying faith in his captain or a clause in his obscene contract, Rooney is never dropped. If two strikers earning in excess of £200,000 a week could not get a game ahead of him then no player can rightfully expect to displace him from the starting line up. This is obviously a massive turn off for any potential transfer targets.

What Van Gaal therefore appears to be looking for in his striker search is one who is complete enough to spearhead his 4-3-3 formation but who is also happy being at very best a rotation player. Such a player simply does not exist. Any player who possesses the broad skill set required to fill the centre forward role in Van Gaal’s system could command a starting place at a top European club. A player who would choose to warm the benches at United rather than to start for a similar (or even slightly smaller) statured club is immediately the wrong player for them, posing a seemingly impassable dilemma to this recruitment mission.

Though Van Gaal has recently said that he will bring in another “mystery” striker, there is an argument that a potential solution already lies within the club in the shape of young Memphis. Though the player is unproven as a striker at any level, he possesses the pace aggression and eye for a goal that could see him develop into a striker of the first variety described. This also overcomes the lack of game time issue as Memphis can play on the left wing (albeit not as first choice) whilst Rooney is fit. United have enough cover in that position through Ashley Young and Angel Di Maria that they will not be left short on the wing if Memphis is to play up front.

A second possible alternative is to sign a right winger, a position which United are in short supply of, who can also play up front in a 4-3-3. Though, for reasons set out earlier, a perfect solution is unlikely to be found, Barcelona’s Pedro is the closest thing to this currently available and it will be of little surprise to see him unveiled as Van Gaal’s “mystery” striker signing.

Could Pedro be Van Gaal's next signing?

Thursday 16 July 2015

Turns out my prediction was right (article first published 16/2/2015 on Backpage Football)

On Valentine’s Day it was announced that Aston Villa have appointed Tim Sherwood to be their new manager, signing a contract until the end of the 2017/18 season. This appointment has received a mixed response from pundits and Villa fans alike, with the general consensus being that it is at best a massive gamble by the club.

In many ways, however, Sherwood’s appointment as Villa manager makes a lot of sense. Although he has limited experience, he has shown some evidence that he is the right man to address The Villan’s deficiencies and build on what strengths the club already possess.

The first and most obvious problem that the new Villa manager must address is their lack of goals. Twelve goals in twenty-five league games is asking for relegation, especially when you consider that it means that in an average league game an opponent only needs to score once to defeat the Midlands club, and a team at the foot of the table can never really be relied on to keep clean sheets.

Given his record as manager of Tottenham Hotspur, it would not be too farfetched to suggest that Sherwood has the ability to improve Aston Villa’s goal output. During his (admittedly short) stint as Spurs boss during the latter half of last season his side to scored an average of 1.9 goals per game in the league. This was a vast improvement from Andre Villas Boas’s record during the first half of the same season where Spurs only managed to average 1.0 goals a game.

When one delves deeper into Spurs’ attacking statistics under Sherwood, one finds more cause for optimism for his Villa reign. A massive part of Aston Villa’s goal shortage is their utterly shocking chance conversion ratio, which is the second worst in all the major leagues in Europe. Under Sherwood, Spurs had the best chance conversion ratio in the Premier League, indicating that if anyone can get Villa’s attackers firing, it is he.

A large factor as to why Tottenham Hotspur’s scoring rate almost doubled between the reigns of Villas Boas and that of Sherwood last season was the rejuvenation of Emmanuel Adebayor under the latter manager. Having been frozen out during the first half of the season, the Togolese striker returned to score 10 goals in 20 league appearances. Adebayor himself acknowledged that his return to form owed much to Sherwood’s influence, as can be shown through both his famous salute of the manager after a goal against Sunderland, and his public vocal support of the manager to keep his position beyond the end of the 2013/14 season.

Aston Villa fans will certainly be hoping that Sherwood can have a similar effect on their out of form striker Christian Benteke as he had on Adebayor at Spurs. The Belgian striker has only scored two league goals all season but, like Adebayor, can be unplayable when confident and on form. Villa’s potential to ascend from danger will surely rest heavily on whether Benteke can get back amongst the goals, and, as has been stated, there is good evidence to suggest that Sherwood can be the man to bring him back to his best.

It is Sherwood’s ability to instil confidence in players, particularly attacking players, which may well ensure that his appointment is a gamble that will pay off. Villa’s lack of goals can be attributed to their midfielders and attackers always choosing the safe option rather than attempting a run or killer pass. This lack of creativity has been further highlighted with the recent introduction to the team of exciting playmaker Carles Gil. Gil’s adventurous and creative play bears a stark contrast to all of his new teammates, quite possibly because he has not been a part of the Villa camp for long enough for the negative atmosphere to drain away his confidence.

Sherwood’s first task as Villa manager will therefore be to give his players the belief and freedom to express themselves on the field. Given the upsurge in form of attacking players such as Adebayor, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane during Sherwood’s time as Spurs manager it would seem that he has the capabilities to achieve this.

Although it must be admitted that Sherwood came nowhere near to alleviating Spurs’ mental block against the bigger sides, his former team’s ability to bounce back from humiliations at the hands of Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City suggest that he has the motivational skills to overcome the setbacks that will surely occur during a relegation scrap.

Sherwood’s ability to give attacking players more creative freedom may see Villa reaping instant benefits. Though their recent form has been woeful, having not won a league game since early December, they have just finished a very difficult run of fixtures and are entering into a period of winnable games. An injection of confidence, particularly into their attacking players, could therefore see them picking up some momentum into the business end of the season.

Perhaps the biggest reason, however why Sherwood seems a good fit for Aston Villa is his excellent record of working with young players. Sherwood was in charge of the Tottenham Hotspur Under-21 side that reached the final of the first ever Barclays Under-21 Premier League. He should be heavily credited for the large number of young players making an impact at White Hart Lane at the moment, in particular Harry Kane and Nabil Bentaleb, who he personally blooded into the first team during the latter half of last season.

Such ability to bring through younger players is an essential trait for any Aston Villa manager, particularly given owner Randy Lerner’s refusal to inject money into the club’s transfer kitty. The Villan’s have a tradition of youth products making an impact in the first team, and Sherwood could definitely continue this tradition, particularly given Villa’s clear need for fresh legs and minds within the first team.

Sherwood’s ability to work with young talent will also be incredibly important for Villa’s long-term future. With Lerner seemingly looking to offload the club, a young, talented and inexpensively assembled team will attract investors. As well as this, should Villa fan’s nightmares come true and they are relegated, Sherwood has the skills to assemble a new team cheaply, meaning that he is a sensible option as Villa manager as opposed to the gamble that many are making him out to be.

Despite this, many Villa supporters are still dissatisfied with the appointment of Sherwood, with their main gripe being his lack of managerial experience and, more specifically, his lack of experience in guiding teams through relegation battles. Indeed, he does have absolutely no experience in this situation, and that is not ideal, however there is a strong case to be made that such experience is not as important as it seems, particularly given how this particular campaign is panning out at the bottom of the table.

First of all, one must look at the managers of the teams around them, and compare what experience they have to that of Sherwood. Indeed, Tony Ferndandes’s ‘dream manager’ at QPR has no head management experience in football, Sean Dyche is in first season of Premier League management and, given his recent indiscretions, the more experienced Nigel Pearson appears to be losing the plot at Leicester. In addition to this, relegation “specialist” Harry “Houdini” Redknapp’s recent work at QPR must beg the question of whether experience is really as valuable as people it make out to be.

An interesting contrast can also be made between the managerial appointments of Villa and their Midland rivals West Bromwich Albion, who recently appointed Tony Pulis as the man to lead them to safety. Such an appointment could not be in a more different vein to that of Sherwood’s at Villa. Pulis is certainly a relegation specialist, as can be shown through his miracle work last season at Crystal Palace. To see West Brom getting relegated under his leadership would be unpredictable to say the least.

However there are also some major drawbacks of West Brom’s new managerial appointment. It is unlikely that Pulis will stay at the club in the long term, particularly given their “continental” management structure which sees Pulis having no real control over transfers, this being the reason why he left Crystal Palace at the start of the season. Sherwood, on the other hand, seems to have been appointed for his ability to develop a team gradually, and the Aston Villa board’s hopes will surely be that they already possess the personnel to achieve their short term goal of safety, so long as they have the required confidence.

This type of long termism in the face of adversity is all too rare in football and should be respected, even if it is not necessarily rewarded.

A second problem that Villa fans may have with Sherwood revolves around his media handling style, which can be very aggressive at times. During his spell in charge of Spurs he publicly criticised his players and at times resembled a stroppy teenager at press conferences. A worry for Villa fans could be that if he continues this eccentric media style and results do not improve then the Birmingham club could become the laughing stock of English football.

However Sherwood’s displays in front of the media may actually prove to be an advantage in a relegation battle. It could divert pressure away from underperforming players, and give Villa a “wildcard” club persona that could unnerve sides around them. At the very least, Sherwood’s antics will at least provide Villa fans with some entertainment, something which has been painfully lacking at Villa Park this season.

Given all this, it would seem that Sherwood’s strengths greatly outweigh his weaknesses in being the new Aston Villa management, and considering the dearth of other options available, Sherwood’s appointment should surely be seen as much more than just a big gamble.