Tim Sherwood

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Win or lose Champions League final, not much changes for Spurs

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Whether Tottenham Hotspur win or lose Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final, 24 players, a coaching staff and an entire fanbase will be feeling the emotional weight of having gone through the wringer of the biggest, most important game in all of club soccer, but precious little will have actually changed about where the club goes from there.

[ MORE: Similar paths led Klopp, Pochettino to date with destiny ]

When Mauricio Pochettino was appointed to replace Tim Sherwood back in 2014, the objectives on which he would be judged were clear: stabilize the first-team squad after a period of unsettling turnover, and get the club back into the Champions League by the time the new stadium was set to open (whenever that would eventually be). As would become the calling card of Pochettino’s tenure, things moved quicker than expected and he needed just two seasons to get them there, and now it’s increasingly difficult to imagine the Champions League without Tottenham in it (three straight seasons with another on the horizon, and a trip to the final).

In that way — and so many others — Pochettino has normalized success at a club starved of such satisfaction for the longest time, for much of its tortured existence. “Spursy” used to be finding the worst, most painful way to fail; now, it’s facing up to some of the biggest clubs in the world without an ounce of fear and seeing themselves as every bit an equal — it’s the most tangible way in which the team represents its manager. Win or lose, this doesn’t change.

[ MORE: How will Spurs, Liverpool line up for Champions League final? ]

If we’re all presently in agreement that Pochettino has done a masterful job to massage an already-short, then injury-ravaged, squad and guide it (somehow) to this game, that won’t have changed and suddenly become untrue based on the result of 90 (or 120) minutes against. If he was on the shortlist for every managerial vacancy in the world, he’ll still be there after a defeat.

Having endured two straight transfer windows without signing a single player, followed by the season (and three-fourths) away from home that would never end, followed by the injury crisis brought about by the lack of transfer dealings, followed by stoppage-time deficits (or deficits that nearly were) into the final seconds of the quarterfinals and semifinals, Spurs’ season has already gone to the brink of falling apart in that cruelest, most painful way imaginable, only for Pochettino’s men to drag themselves through to the other side as lilywhite heroes time and again. Win or lose, that incredible ride doesn’t get erased.

[ MORE: Liverpool: Spurs matches “the toughest games we’ve played” ]

On the other hand, Spurs upsetting the applecart and knocking off Liverpool — the heavy favorites that they are — wouldn’t change the fact that Pochettino’s project is still just that: a project now ahead of schedule, but still with far to go.

The goal was never to get to this one final, on this one day, in this one season; it was always to set the club up for long-term sustainability, so as to claim their place as one of the Premier League’s elite in the same way we now think of Manchester City and Chelsea, and the way we used to think of Manchester United and Arsenal. Part of those club’s present-day narratives are down to their own hilarious failings, to be sure, but another (not insignificant) part is down to being a dysfunction operation in comparison to what’s been happening at White Hart Lane.

Win or lose on Saturday, none of it changes.

[ MORE: Report: Maurizio Sarri to be released from Chelsea contract ]

It should be said, in the interest of fairness: Saturday’s showpiece in Madrid does have the feeling of a crossroads moment for the club.

A number key figures could very well move on in the summer. Toby Aldeweireld, who has a $31-million release clause in his contract going forward, and Christian Eriksen, who could be one of any number of stars headed to Real Madrid, are chief among them. Their theoretical departures would, of course, allow for necessitate a bit of transfer activity to breathe new life into the squad — something Spurs fans desperately crave — but with it would come a sense of tearing down and rebuilding a core group that has traced a trajectory beyond anything once thought possible.

To shed the tags of “bottlers” and “sure, finishing above your rivals is nice, but you still haven’t won a trophy” by winning the Champions League trophy — the trophy — at the expense of Liverpool, and before Man City or Arsenal could do it, would be the cherry on top of the ride of a lifetime. This might be as good as it ever gets for Spurs, which means one or two things has gone horrifically wrong in the future, which makes this present moment mean that much more.

Taking stock of Premier League managers in post-Wenger era

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It’s been just under four years since Tottenham Hotspur appointed Mauricio Pochettino as the replacement for Tim Sherwood, not yet long enough to complete a standard high school education.

But, assuming he stays longer than season’s end, Pochettino will be the third-longest tenured manager in the Premier League, and would qualify as the dean of the league in terms of consecutive seasons with one top flight club.

[ RECAP: Spurs 2-0 Watford ]

As Sir Alex Ferguson pointed out Sunday in saluting Arsene Wenger, the days of long tenures are (mostly) done.

Burnley’s Sean Dyche and Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe have each been with their clubs for approximately five and a half seasons and have spent almost as long as names tipped to be hot names for any job openings deemed bigger than their current posts.

Maybe we need to start calling years by some new relative scale, as they do for dogs. Envision for a moment if you will, Wenger saying, “I managed Arsenal for 22 years, or 110 Dyche years.”

Only 11 Premier League managers have held their posts for more than a calendar year, four of whom carry the gloss of bringing their clubs up from the Championship (Dyche, Howe, Chris Hughton, and David Wagner). Remember when Jurgen Klopp was hired by Liverpool? Forty-two PL manager changes have been made since that day.

Which begs the question: Are Howe, 40, and Dyche, 46, the league’s last hopes for one manager to spend 10-straight years at a club in this Premier League climate?

With respect to Howe, who may continue to eschew other openings — he’s been whispered as the next Arsenal boss for ages — we’ll choose to focus on Dyche in this case, largely because he seems extremely likely to take Burnley on its Europa League adventure next season and, well, he’s earned free beer and his name on a pub in Burnley.

Swansea’s decision to fire Bob Bradley defies logic in every capacity

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A day removed from Bob Bradley‘s firing after just 11 matches in charge of Swansea City, things still don’t add up.

Opinions have been wildly hurdled at walls throughout the soccer world, most of which really don’t stick all that well. The ones that do all point to the same conclusion.

What on Earth is the Swansea board thinking?

It’s an acceptable take that the Swans, in 19th place in the Premier League and in a dire relegation situation, did not improve under Bradley. That much is clear. But given all that we’ve seen about this team, could any rational observer really have expected much at all in such a short amount of time? The eye test will tell you the players are just not good enough, with the defense in particular looking comically over-matched.

Francesco Guidolin must be snickering as he watches this all unfold. He had little say as Swansea sold both Andre Ayew and Ashley Williams with the only reinvestment on Borja Baston, a striker even Bradley’s attacking mentality hasn’t been able to light the spark. Now, with a Championship-caliber roster, neither Guidolin nor Bradley have been able to right the ship.

Guidolin – who probably shouldn’t have been let go himself – employed a defense-first tactic, much like a number of other Premier League teams throughout the decades battling against relegation: bunker in, hope for a counter or two, and take your chances. It didn’t work. Enter Bob Bradley, who looked to turn things around by changing the entire fabric of the team. If Guidolin’s hunker down style didn’t work, why not try and play the opposite? Except that didn’t work either; they scored more goals, but conceded a ridiculous amount.

So if neither strategy produced results, does the blame truly fall with the manager?

What the eye test will tell you is the players are just flat out not going to cut it. Whoever comes in will need a complete overhaul in the winter to the best of the club’s financial and recruiting ability. They failed to do so over the summer, and are paying the price. Unfortunately, the board has put themselves at a complete disadvantage; whoever is hired will have days – or less – to prepare for the January transfer window. To make matters even more confusing, the favorite to take the position, Ryan Giggs, has never been a manager before, meaning he’s never been in charge of player recruitment. Ever.

So, to wrap this all up, Swansea provided Bob Bradley with a relegation-caliber roster, expected him to turn it around in 11 matches, and when he inevitably couldn’t despite a clear vision for the pathway forward, they dumped him and are considering turning instead to a completely inexperienced name-hire days before the transfer window opens?

Teams have been here before – recently – and it never ends well. Fulham found itself with a Championship-caliber roster after Mohamed Al Fayed insisted on selling the club with pristine books, and they sacked three managers in the 2013/14 season, none of them able to stave off relegation. Aston Villa last campaign fired both Tim Sherwood and Remi Garde with neither able to keep them from going down. Managers can only do so much when given nothing to work with, and now, could they really attract someone capable of preventing relegation with the position suddenly so toxic?

Bottom line is, if Bradley was the right man for the job 11 matches ago, he’s probably still the right man now, and you could probably make the same argument for Guidolin before him. It’s clear the Swansea board has lost its way, and the club will pay the exorbitant price.

Firing Bradley without a transfer window is baffling

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After firing a manager who didn’t get much of a say in their ill-planned summer transfer window, Swansea City went next level with their man management.

They fired a manager who didn’t get a say in his players at all.

Bob Bradley has been sacked as manager of Swansea City after just 11 matches in charge of the Premier League’s Welsh outfit.

Eleven matches.

[ EXCLUSIVE: Bradley issues first statement ]

Swansea seemed forced into keeping Francesco Guidolin after he saved the club from relegation last season. Chairman Huw Jenkins kept the last word in transfers, then let Andre Ayew and Ashley Williams walk without much in the way of proper replacements (Read a take on those errors here).

That was especially true for Williams, the club’s best player last season and a leader in Wales’ surprising run deep into EURO 2016.

Bradley said he was going to “go for it” until the transfer window, and the American did that justice. While Swans defense continued to fail and gave up even more goals, Bradley’s attack doubled its production.

Updating the numbers following Swans’ 4-1 loss to West Ham on Boxing Day, this is the club’s season:

Under Guidolin
1W-1D-5L (.57 points per game)
Goals scored: 6 (.85 per)
Goals allowed: 12 (1.71 per)

Under Bradley
2W-2D-7L (.72 points per game)
Goals scored: 15 (1.36 per)
Goals allowed: 29 (2.63 per)

Guidolin’s feast-or-famine run saw a home loss to Hull City and a home draw vs. Chelsea, and was packed with tough fixtures. Though Bradley’s started with Arsenal, even more short-sighted in terms of giving a coach a good start; Then again, Guidolin was seen by the press in the building just before Bradley was introduced, a bizarre bit of organization.

[ MORE: Pardew fired by Palace

Bradley’s run degenerated in the second half, at least defensively. Swans held Watford to a 0-0 and went to Everton for 1-1 before outlasting Palace 5-4. Though they’d add a blowout of Sunderland, Swans finished their run with Bradley having allowed three or more goals in five of six, thrice conceding four-plus markers.

Bradley’s firing isn’t an alien decision in the Premier League, where older managers are recycled and new names rarely get anything longer than a short leash.

But with the full acknowledgment that this is an American site, defending Bradley is a lot easier than having Swansea’s back here. After all, Swans fired Garry Monk last December and didn’t hire Guidolin until weeks into the January transfer window.

When you look at clubs who’ve made two bonafide managerial changes in recent seasons, here’s what you find:

Aston Villa (2015-16) — Tim Sherwood –> Remi Garde –> Eric Black
Fulham (2013-14) — Martin Jol –> Rene Meulensteen –> Felix Magath
Newcastle United (2008-09) — Kevin Keegan –> Joe Kinnear –> Alan Shearer
Portsmouth (2008-09) — Harry Redknapp –> Tony Adams –> Paul Hart

Of those four sides, only one carrying an asterisk stayed up: Portsmouth lost Redknapp when Spurs bought him out. Pompey finished seven points clear of the drop.

[ MORE: Liverpool batters Stoke ]

Of course, a team has to be fairly miserable to fire two managers in a season. It helps to be unorganized.

Firing Bradley isn’t a massive surprise given the financial dangers of a relegation campaign, but doing it without giving the boss a single transfer window to fix its miserable back line is shocking. Bradley was pried from another club, Le Havre, and given assurances he’d be able to fix the roster.

Change is almost a given in the Premier League, and Bradley really wasn’t given a chance. It’s easy to say that in retrospect, but hiring a man and not giving him a window to fix what ails Swansea is absolutely shocking. Unless we learn of full-scale dressing room hatred, it’s difficult to apply logic to hiring Bradley and firing him within a couple months.

Bournemouth at home and Crystal Palace away are next, and clearly the short-term thinking from the board is that a “new boss boost” could help them take points from perceived relegation opponents (Nevermind that Bradley oversaw “six-point” wins over Sunderland and Palace, losing to Boro and drawing Watford).

But what comes after that, when the fixtures go Arsenal home, Liverpool away, Southampton home, Man City away? With this back line, is life going to get any better?

If so, and it happens without a full overhaul of the defense, then the egg’s on our face. We’re just not expecting to need any towels.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Aston Villa appoint Steve Bruce as new manager

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Well, Aston Villa’s chances of gaining promotion straight back to the Premier League just increased.

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On Wednesday they named Steve Bruce, 55, as their new manager as the promotion expert will sink his teeth into an almighty challenge at Villa Park.

Bruce has won promotion on each of his last four seasons in the Championship, English soccer’s second-tier, but this may be his biggest test to date.

In the past the former Manchester United captain, in his 19th season as a manager, twice guided Birmingham City and Hull City to promotion to the PL, while he’s also manager Sunderland and Wigan Athletic in the Premier League and he took Hull to the FA Cup final in 2014.

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With Villa currently 19th in the Championship table and 10 points off the final playoff spot, Bruce is ready for the challenge to wake up a sleeping giant.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity. It is one of the big clubs of this country. To be given the opportunity to manage it is terrific,” Bruce told Villa’s website. “I relish the challenge of trying to take the Club where it wants to go and needs to be – and try to turn around the misfortune we seem to have had over the past few years. I am absolutely delighted to have been given the chance. I hope I can do my stuff.”

We all know Villa are a huge club and former champions of England and Europe but at the moment they’re in disarray.

Bruce’s appointment comes after Roberto Di Matteo was fired by new Chinese owner Dr Tony Xia following a dreadful start to the current season. Bruce’s first game in charge will be a massive Midlands derby against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday, and he becomes Villa’s sixth manager in the past 12 months after Tim Sherwood, Kevin MacDonald (caretaker), Remi Garde, Eric Black (caretaker) and Di Matteo.

Simply put, Villa has played it safe.

Bruce knows all about getting teams out of the second-tier — he stayed with Hull after their relegation in 2015 and brought them back up to the PL last season via the playoffs before leaving after a fallout with the owners — and he worked wonders with Villa’s bitters rivals Birmingham City from 2001 to 2007. Now he has switched allegiance in England’s second city and although his talent as a manager is undoubted (up until recently he was in the running for the England job) it will be intriguing to see how Villa’s fans take to him.

He is old school and he gets results. After several seasons of misery, the latter is the only thing Villa’s owner, fans and players care about.