Questions surround Tottenham's search for a new manager
There was a change of manager, a change of approach and a change of personnel, but no change of luck for Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs dominated long spells of Wednesday's Capital One Cup quarter-final against West Ham United, but Tim Sherwood's first game since replacing Andre Villas-Boas in a caretaker capacity ended in defeat.
Sherwood, who had been in charge of the development squad, went back to basics, selecting an attacking 4-4-2 that included only two of the players who joined in the summer. For a time it seemed to work, with Spurs getting the ball wide and causing West Ham problems. But gradually West Ham stifled the home side and, although Emmanuel Adebayor volleyed Spurs into the lead after 66 minutes, West Ham continued to grow through the game. In the end, the key player was, unexpectedly, Modibo Maiga. It was his flick that Matthew Taylor laid off for Matt Jarvis to fire in after 79 minutes before the Mali international rose to head in Guy Demel's cross five minutes later.
After all the criticism of Villas-Boas for being too cautious, for seeking control of midfield above all else, Sherwood paid for the exact opposite. His midfield had been open enough to leave the back four vulnerable from the start, a calculated risk that was justifiable so long as Spurs were getting the ball wide and delivering crosses.
"We played with a nice tempo," Sherwood said. "We got the ball wide, filled up the box. They're fit enough to play a certain way but I wanted to change the way we played. I asked them to play a little more gung-ho and up and at 'em. The problem was giving the ball away, turning over possession, and it's impossible to rest when you haven't got the ball." It seems strange that the head of Spurs' development squad should have such a radically different approach to that of the previous manager, perhaps indicating a lack of cohesive thinking at the club as a whole.
By the end, Tottenham looked incapable of stemming the tide and Maiga almost made it 3-1 in injury-time, his shot thumping against the bar.
That's not enough to write Sherwood off, but this wasn't a particularly impressive audition if he wants the job full-time either. There have been suggestions that Sherwood could remain in charge in a caretaker capacity until the summer, after which he would make way for the former England manager Fabio Capello.
The Italian's contract with Russia expires after the World Cup and for the past month he has been negotiating over an extension until 2018,when Russia hosts the tournament. The head of the Russian Football Union, Vitaly Mutko, insisted that an agreement has been reached in principle but Capello has not yet signed. It may be that he is merely using Tottenham as a bargaining tactic, but he has a good relationship with the Spurs director of football, Franco Baldini, who was part of his England set up. It may be that, at 67, he fancies one last crack at a major club job. Capello was at White Hart Lane on Sunday working as a commentator; at the press buffet, he took roast beef but turned down the Yorkshire pudding, which seemed to symbolize the rejection of English traditions that caused him such problems when he was national manager.
Another former England manager, Glenn Hoddle, has been suggested, although he hasn't had a job in management since a disappointing spell at Wolverhampton Wanderers that ended in 2006. Hoddle still appeals to a romantic section of the Spurs support who remember his playing days, when he strolled around the White Hart Lane pitch, spraying passes with an insouciant genius, although a two-year spell as Spurs manager ended with him being sacked in 2003 after taking just four points from the first six games of the season.
Guus Hiddink, a man who has been linked with every major vacancy going in English soccer over the past decade, has been mooted. He has been out of work since leaving Anzhi in the summer, but at 67 there's no certainty he would welcome a return to club management, and he has been linked with replacing Louis van Gaal as manager of the Netherlands after the World Cup.
The feeling is, anyway, that Spurs are more likely to go for one of the modern breed of foreign sophisticats who favor a high pressing game that, properly implemented, would seem to suit this squad. There has been at least preliminary interest in Mauricio Pochettino, who has been so impressive since taking over as manager of Southampton in January -- although he remains remarkably inexperienced. Other than almost a year at Southampton -- where he is facing his first wobble, having taken two points from the last five league games -- his only job in management has been three years at Espanyol. His work at Southampton can hardly be faulted, but he would be a risk.
Of those currently working in the Premier League, the other possibility would be Michael Laudrup, who led Swansea City to the Capital One Cup last season. By coincidence, he was in the other dug-out at White Hart Lane on the night in 2007 when Tottenham decided to sack Martin Jol midway through a UEFA Cup match against Getafe.
There appears to have been contact with Frank de Boer, who led Ajax to the league title last season, while the only other realistic candidate is Luciano Spalletti, who has Zenit St Petersburg top of the Russian table chasing a third league in his four years at the club. For all his success, the Italian is understood to be keen on a return to western Europe.
Sherwood, though, is the man in possession, although he admitted he doesn't even know yet whether he will be in charge for Sunday's game at Southampton. Whoever takes charge, though, the hope has to be that his philosophy matches that of Baldini and the squad the director of football has created. Whether Villas-Boas did is debatable, but what is clear is that Villas-Boas and Sherwood's ideas are so different as to make a mockery of all the claims of continuity and long-term planning used to justify a power structure like that of Spurs.