The Decider: Why Aston Villa Hired Tim Sherwood


This is the first installment of a soon to be ongoing series which will look at the decision-making process of Premier League club owners, executives and managers

I know that Tim Sherwood is a polarizing figure in the Premier League. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Over at 7500 To Holte, they asked noted ‘Tactics Tim’ experts from Cartilage Free Captain to give their opinion on what the B6 club is in for. The responses were less than glowing.

When Pep Guardiola plays Philipp Lahm at central midfield, he’s a genius. When Sherwood plays Kyle Walker, he’s an idiot.

The most damning comment was the repeated disbelief that Sherwood dared to play right back Kyle Walker in central midfield. Imagine that. Except, it’s really not that crazy. I think we often get too hung up on our orthodoxies about positions.

What should be looked at is the reason behind that decision. Perhaps there were certain attributes or skills that the player possesses which suited the function or role that the manager envisioned in that particular match.

When Pep Guardiola plays Philipp Lahm at central midfield, he’s a genius. When Sherwood plays Kyle Walker, he’s an idiot. I’m obviously not trying to compare Walker to Lahm, or Sherwood to Pep. What I’m trying to do is make a broader statement about how we ought to perceive these decisions. Incidentally, in the case of Leandro Bacuna, Aston Villa possesses a right back who also plays midfield.

Let’s take a look at why Tim Sherwood was hired, but before we do that we need to look at the two steps before: why Paul Lambert’s contract was extended, and then why Lambert was fired.

I. Why Paul Lambert was extended

10 points in the first four matches of the Premier League season. That’s it. I want to believe that there was more to it, but I genuinely believe that the decision-makers above Lambert, namely owner Randy Lerner and CEO Tom Fox, were blinded by the hot start.

Why shouldn’t it have happened? The underlying numbers were pointing hopelessly to it not continuing. It wasn’t about the media narrative that then-assistant manager Roy Keane had brought steel. It was mostly that Aston Villa were scoring at an unsustainable rate and Brad Guzan was saving shots at a rate that would impress Lev Yashin. It was not to last.

II. Why Paul Lambert was fired

It did not last. The sad part about hot streaks is that we should always see the return to normalcy coming. That’s what regression is.

Even worse, is when a run of bad luck comes. A lot has been said about Aston Villa’s inability to score goals. I won’t pile on. What I will do is note that in the period when they had only scored 11 goals in the Premier League, many Expected Goals models had predicted nearly twice as many. That’s just really rotten luck.

III. Why Tim Sherwood was hired

Tim Sherwood brings two attributes that distinguish him: he has experience bringing in youth players, and he is a boldly confident personality. The hope is that in the short-term, a boost of confidence will help the team regain their composure and save them from relegation.

In the long-term, with the team established in the Premier League, it is incumbent on Sherwood to give Villa the belief to move up the table and regain their prominence as a large club.

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This shouldn’t diminish what Paul Lambert has done at the club. Just because a manager is dismissed should not come across as an indictment of failure.

The remit that Lambert had been given was to lower wages, find younger players, and maintain Villa’s status in the top flight. He did those things, and as I’ve noted elsewhere, he actually did a very decent job of finding inexpensive first-team players.

Lambert was overwhelmed with responsibilities that did not necessarily work to his strengths. This was compounded by the early departure of Keane as his assistant. If Sherwood is to be a success, the hope is that he finds suitable people to delegate tasks that are his weaknesses while focusing on his strengths.

While I wouldn’t have given him a contract till 2018, I can understand it sends the signal that he is there for the long-term, which instils confidence in his appointment in a way that saying he is only there until the end of the season never would. After all, confidence is why he was hired.

Next: Frank Lampard Says Manchester City Will Win The Champions League