Tim Sherwood walked into the dressing room. Louis van Gaal’s reign had been a disaster, with United failing to make the Champions League, or even the Europa League. There had been an outcry among the papers, and, in their infinite wisdom, Ed Woodward and the Glazer family had decided a domestic manager was the best option.
Sherwood’s run at Aston Villa at the end of the 2014/15 season had been as successful as Van Gaal’s had been a disaster. Under him, Villa had played 16, won 13, lost three, and United fans had to endure the sight of Tom Cleverley lifting the FA Cup.
The Villains’ victory over the Red Devils at Old Trafford had been cited as the beginning of the end for the Dutchman. His side never recovered their lost confidence, and he had been ignominiously sacked, and taken over as David Moyes’ assistant at Real Sociedad.
Sherwood had engineered a simple-but-effective counter-attacking performance. That had lodged itself into Woodward’s mind, and the former Tottenham Hotspur man’s chummy bravado had won United’s Chief Executive’s affections.
“Right lads,” said Tim, “here’s the philosophy…” He had accompanied that much pilloried word with air quotes, of course. The dressing room erupted with laughter, as Tim grinned broadly.
“Show ‘em Les.” Les Ferdinand, standing by Sherwood’s side, dramatically flipped over a page of flip chart paper. On it was printed huge number “4”. “Four!” exclaimed Tim. Ferdinand flipped over another page. Another “4.” “Four!” yelled Sherwood, “say it with me lads…”
The players, led by Wayne Rooney, mostly joined in with a hearty “two!” as Ferdinand flipped another page to reveal exactly that.
There were cheers around the dressing room, as players who had been forced to adapt to a 3-5-2 system that clearly did not suit them were delighted to be freed from complex tactical thinking. Daley Blind and Michael Carrick looked a little put out, but in general the mood was buoyant.
“Tim Sherwood thinks you’re all great players,” said Tim Sherwood, speaking in the third person, as Tim Sherwood is wont to do.
“If you follow Tim Sherwood’s instructions, you’ll be just fine. First of all, you have to think like Tim Sherwood. Get it and give it. Run the channels. Passion. Lots and lots of that. It’s very important.”
“Who are we marking at corners, boss?” asked Rooney. “Call me Tim, Wazza. And call yourself Wayne Rooney, that’s very important too. Shows ‘em you mean business and know your stuff.”
“Wayne Rooney wants to know who he’s picking up at corners,” said Rooney, slowly, practising this new form of speech.
“Phil Jones is in charge of that. He’ll tell you,” replied the manager.
“Phil Jones will tell you!” yelled Jones, pumping his fist in triumph.
A few months later it was all over. After a great start, as excitement and passion carried United through, Sherwood’s tactical naivety was cruelly exposed. He was replaced by Pep Guardiola, in what was universally considered to be history’s oddest managerial succession.
Sherwood took over the reigns at Villa again, kept them from relegation, and was rewarded with the Chelsea job after Jose Mourinho left to take over at Bayern Munich.
Back to Reality
Of course, in reality, Sherwood is not the caricature painted above. His managerial career is fledgling, but he has had some success. Whilst his “win ratio” may have become a meme, he did reasonable work at Spurs, and is off to a decent start at Aston Villa.
However, he is a long way off proving himself at an elite level.
On Saturday, he will be hoping to engineer an upset against a Van Gaal side that, in reality, is in excellent form. That in itself is a long shot. The idea of him taking the hot seat at Old Trafford?
The odds on that would have to be second-to-none.