Goals / game
Conc / game
Points / game
*Age on opening day of the season
FAC: FA Cup; FL: Football League; D1: Division 1; D2: Division 2; D3: Division 3; PL: Premier League; CH: Championship
Timothy Alan Sherwood
6 February 1969
Andy Marshall (Caretaker)
Poor form, Sacked
Kevin MacDonald (Caretaker)
2009-15 Fabian Delph |
2012-15 Christian Benteke |
2014-21 Jack Grealish |
2015 Kevin McDonald | 2015 Ray Wilkins |
Chairman, Randolph Lerner
Chief Executive, Tom Fox
Previous Clubs Managed
2013-14 Tottenham Hotspur, Manager
Villa Management Career
Points per game
Managed the Villa
2014-15 FA Cup Runners Up
Villa Managerial Debut
21 February 2015, Villa 1-2 Stoke, Villa Park
Final Villa Managerial Game
24 October 2015, Villa 1-2 Swansea, Villa Park
2014-15 | 17th Premier League | (Part Season) |
2015-16 | 20th Premier League | Relegated | (Part Season) |
FA Cup finishes
2014-15 | Runners Up |
League Cup finishes
2015-16 | 4th Round | (Part Season) |
Manager #28 for Aston Villa. Tim Sherwood had a short but eventful reign as Villa boss, injecting a new sense of optimism and dynamism after the woeful Paul Lambert that culminated in a run to the FA Cup final. However before that Wembley date, Villa’s form under Sherwood - whose management style was focused on motivation rather than tactical nous - had already begun to unwind in spectacular fashion, and although Sherwood had helped Villa avoid certain relegation under the bewildering Lambert regime, the club still finished in a languishing 17th, and were roundly beaten in the FA Cup final, despite having a team better directed, motivated and prepared than had been the case over recent seasons.
Sherwood was almost the perfect interim manager, a short spell of inspiration and motivation for a squad bereft of confidence and overburdened with bewildering instructions and team selection. Sherwood soon settled on a chosen first XI, a simple way of playing and let the team do the rest. Inevitably however such an approach can only last for so long before it becomes found out and so it would prove in devastating fashion as Villa conceded goals with alacrity at the end of the 2014-15 campaign.
Any reasoned observer would conclude that Sherwood deserved huge thanks and plaudits for helping Villa avoid certain relegation under Lambert however it was clear for all to see that his best role as a short term motivator was now no longer viable.
The Villa hierarchy however decided otherwise and appointed Sherwood as permanent boss for the 2015-16 season and inevitable relegation followed as a short term impetus manager and a dreadful squad overhaul ripped the heart out of Villa and sent the club to the second tier for the first time in nearly 30 years.
Before that however came the exodus as Villa defender Ron Vlaar recalled “I knew when we lost the FA Cup final 4-0 to Arsenal (in 2015), I thought, ‘This isn’t going to change, this is not what I want any more. I need a new challenge, something else’.” Vlaar refused a new contract with Villa and left at the end of the campaign for his original club AZ Alkmaar.
Although Vlaar’s decision to run down his contract was disappointing - leaving him as an uncelebrated footnote in Villa’s history - despite his World Cup pedigree - the behaviour of his team-mate Christian Benteke was beyond the pale.
Benteke had been Lambert’s saviour in successive seasons but also had troubled the Villa hierarchy with repeated demands for a transfer away from the club - a saga that seemed to dominate every close season under Lambert. Admittedly any player with ambition would have been concerned with the goings on under the bewildering Lambert however Benteke pre-empted such things by being a perpetual agitating presence. But for his goals, Benteke would have been one of those players with whom it simply wasn’t worth the effort - as his post Villa career has proved. Back in the summer of 2015 however Benteke threw his proverbial toys out of the pram and embarrassed himself and the club with his behaviour on the pre-season tour in Portugal. With his sulky, petulant behaviour writ large across his face he disrespected all those around him - team-mates, fans and staff - until he got his way finally and was granted a move away from the club. That Tim Sherwood had freed him to once again play at his best and score goals had no bearing on Benteke’s decision and it is with some irony that 2014-15 was Benteke’s last true goalscoring season.
For Sherwood then there were already doubts over his ability to manage at the top level using a necessary tactical nous, but he now had to deal with disruptive and uncommitted influences across the first team. His problems were further compounded by the refusal of the club hierarchy to allow him a greater say in the recruitment policy of the club ahead of the coming season. Villa, under Lerner, and the executive team over the previous 5 seasons had made a real hash of recruitment and squad building, violently jerking from one failed strategy to another, ripping apart any semblance of continuity and leaving the club with a disjointed and often sub standard raft of players from which Sherwood had to choose.
Lerner, having said his farewell to the lamentable CEO Paul Faulkner replaced him with advertising man Tom Fox, sporting director Hendrik Almstadt and head of scouting and recruitment Paddy Riley, all of whom lacked any semblance of experience or track record in their new roles.
Villa’s recruitment team under the maligned Riley embarked on a shopping spree in the lower European leagues and B teams and unearthed a series of uncommitted ‘talent’ that were in no way ready for the demands of the Premier League or the application required by the Villa faithful.
For every Idrissa Gueye and Jordan Amavi there were many more of the likes of Adama Traore, Jordan Veretout, Jordan Ayew, Rudy Gestede, Micah Richards, José Ángel Crespo and Joleon Lescott.
The recruitment was simply appalling and although Gueye and Amavi, and to a lesser extent Veretout, have blossomed and gone on to play at a high level, Riley’s recruitment was an abject failure and was directly responsible for Villa’s relegation.
If that was not bad enough then came the infamous Fabian Delph U-turn. First he was going to Manchester City, then he was staying, then he went to the Emptyhad. It is said however that Delph’s decision wasn’t entirely his own and behind the scenes influence prodded him into his about turn. Certainly there is more to the story yet to be told but what we do know is that with the loss of the talents of Vlaar, Delph, Benteke and Tom Cleverley - who refused to sign a permanent deal with a relegation clause - Villa were desperate for a cohesive managerial appointment to replace the interim Sherwood and to install a strategic revolution at the club.
That however was not forthcoming and Villa effectively planned for their own relegation just as it appeared possible for the club to make steps to reassert itself as something above the bottom five places in the Premier League.
To be fair the players however had a different view of Sherwood’s short spell in charge and believed that retaining his motivational skills would have meant the relegation that looked certain from early in the 2015-16 campaign wouldn’t have happened if his services had been retained as Gabby Agbonlahor attested:
“I still think today if we had kept Tim Sherwood in charge, we would have had a better chance of staying up because he was a great manager and everyone loved him.”
“The confidence was shattered in the whole team, you’d go into games thinking we’re going to need something amazing to get a result here today.”
“[We] started the season off losing games … looking at each game thinking ‘it’s going to happen again’. It’s not a nice situation to be in.”
The reality was however, whoever was in charge, the team assembled by Riley was one of the worst Premier League teams ever fielded. One who could rarely even compete let alone secure points and worst of all was the subject of ridicule by their own fans. The vitriol would soon follow however but by then Sherwood was long gone, having been sacked after 12 games as the utter folly of his extended stay was laid bare.
Claims were made that Villa had been tracking and intending to sign the likes of Joe Gomez, then of Charlton Athletic who went on to join Liverpool, Benjamin Pavard of Lille who would sign for FC Bayern, as well as Dennis Praet (Leicester City) who came to the training ground but walked elsewhere, and youngsters Sander Berge (Sheffield United) and Donny van de Beek (Manchester United), N’Golo Kante (Chelsea and title winner with Leicester City in Villa’s relegation season), Steven Nzonzi (Sevilla) and Jamie Vardy (Leicester City goalscoring great and title winner). However coming close to isn’t the same as actually signing a player and the players that did arrive for Sherwood bore no resemblance to the alleged shortlist that Fox, Almstadt and Riley had claimed.
Fox recalled “We had what we viewed to be the ideal process. We had identified, with the existing manager, the positions that we needed to fill and then we identified multiple players through Paddy and his scouts. We all sat down together in a room and discussed the targets.”
Riley, with Lerner’s ear, having sold a concept of buying cheap and selling high, installed a focus on data science - which admittedly has a major part to play in the success of sports teams, but which became an over, and almost total reliance, to the exclusion of actually how the players would mould into a squad worthy of selection.
Villa hired Opta data scientist Sam Green as head of research and Green explained “The plan was to work out the value of every action the player carries out in terms of scoring or preventing goals. Say we’re looking at a midfielder… If he completes a pass sideways, that wouldn’t particularly affect his rating but winning a header from a set-piece, or making an interception in the final third, would count for more. We would then combine everything the player does in the context of the game to get a ‘goal value’. I’d then work in collaboration with the scouts to cross-reference the players they filed positive reports on and also suggest other similar players as alternatives, based on my findings.”
If that sounds alarmingly disconnected from the basic requirements of building a manageable, malleable and motivated squad with which Sherwood could work then so it proved.
The reality was Lerner was building a squad to flip, not a team to succeed, and Villa paid a heavy price.
In another alarming twist, every player signed during the summer agreed to a 50 per cent wage cut in the event of relegation. A move that is on the one hand sensible and prudent, yet on the other underlined the absence of any confidence in the policies and processes of recruitment that Villa were forcing on Tim Sherwood.
The likes of Sherwood’s preferred targets such as Aaron Lennon and Tom Cleverley would have no truck with that for both financial reasons and also the prospect of joining a club evidently knowingly heading towards the rocks of relegation.
Sherwood, early in the piece, was already finding Riley’s recruitment method a concern and there was little agreement in the players being ultimately brought to the club. Sherwood favoured older, more experienced heads with a British bias. The club went in a completely different direction.
Where compromise was made such as with the signings of the woeful Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards, these were exactly that, cheap, available compromises that would add none of the qualities the squad needed so desperately. The result was a fatally mismatched and imbalanced squad that Sherwood had not bought into and was unable, or unwilling to motivate.
Leon Collins, then Villa’s regional scouting manager for France revealed the disconnect when recalling “We were looking for wing-backs because Tim [Sherwood] wanted to play with three at the back but in the end, he didn’t really try that system.”
“The best times for us were always the meetings with the manager when he set out his thoughts and explained what he was looking for. It meant that we had a focus rather than just making general recommendations.”
Fox, who was quickly ousted following relegation claimed in an attempt to justify the disaster over which he had presided “English football was changing at the time. It was no longer about the manager making all the decisions. Obviously, the manager was never given a player that he didn’t want but part of our plan was that he was supported with a more rigorous process.”
“I’m still confident that the process was right. The best teams aren’t a collection of great individuals. They all learn how to play together. It was about stitching it all together into a cohesive team and that’s what proved to be the biggest challenge for us. You can buy the best individual players but unless you have the right system, that ultimately will fail.”
Whilst the list of players Fox claimed Villa ‘nearly signed’ was extensive and more than a little proof that the strategy was indeed a complete failure, one player who did sign having been sourced through the process was Idrissa Gueye. Damningly however, this most inexperienced of Villa staff had failed to take into account the commitment of players and Gueye refused to sign for the club unless a pitiful £7.1m release clause was placed in his contract. Villa not only progressed with the signing of a player who clearly was uncommitted but also acquiesced completely to the midfielder’s demands.
Perhaps the biggest reveal of Lerner, Fox, Almstadt and Riley’s true motivation came in Collins’ admission with regards the signing of Jordan Veretout “I always knew he [Veretout] was going to be a slow-burner, a player who probably needed a season in England before he really settled in. We were mindful that his value would go up significantly the next season, so it’s why the club wanted to act.”
Again the club completely failed to undertake due diligence on Veretout’s character. As a player he refused to socialise with the squad, refused to learn English, stayed in a hotel despite being given a series of suitable housing options and showed as little commitment off the field as did his performances on it. Given Villa ‘knew’ he would be unable to perform to the level required in his debut campaign, serious question marks again needed to be placed over the transfer strategy with one source saying:
“Villa’s scouts at the time identified some really good players; that’s clear to see now. With the assistance of some additional staff members who had contacts inside clubs, it might have helped the club make better decisions.”
When Sherwood did offer up his list of preferred targets however they left a great deal to be desired and simply underlined the fact that Villa from top to bottom were in the wrong hands to build on the miracle of avoiding relegation the previous season.
Sherwood’s preferred signings included Everton’s 21 year old Luke Garbutt who went on to ply his trade at lower league Cheltenham, Colchester, Fulham, Wigan, Oxford and Ipswich before joining League One Blackpool in 2020; Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, 25, of Arsenal who has represented lower league Blackpool, Doncaster, Cardiff, Ipswich, Bristol City, QPR, MK Dons, Gillingham and by 2020 had joined Livingston after a brief spell with PTT Rayong in Thailand; Ben Gladwin, a 23 year old with QPR who by 2020 was turning out for the MK Dons after an unproductive spell with Blackburn Rovers; and Massimo Luongo, 23, of Ipswich, Swindon, QPR and by 2019 Sheffield Wednesday.
Patently, none were of the quality Villa needed.
Sherwood did push and got Jordan Ayew, scorer of 7 goals in Villa’s relegation season, but with an uncertain temperament and lacking in the quality to succeed at the top level he too was a failure that successive managers tried to rid the club of.
Likewise Sherwood delivered the abject failures that were Tiago Ilori, José Ángel Crespo and Rudy Gestede, all of whom were viewed as ‘cheap’ signings, but with cheap you don’t get quality and whilst the former two players didn’t make an impression on the first team, Gestede was repeatedly brought in to fulfil a role that Sherwood’s style of play simply didn’t fit. That the player was unable to perform even in the Championship after Villa’s relegation spoke volumes.
Villa were in complete disarray with no clear thinking or any experienced head to steady the ship and set it on the course of a coherent strategy of which Sherwood was an unlucky but integral part.
It was no surprise when Sherwood was sacked after 12 games with a win rate of 25%, down from 44% in his 16 game spell the previous season and a loss rate of 67% compared to 29%.
Equally it was completely unsurprising when Steve Round took over as sporting director post-relegation in September 2016, he ripped up Riley’s plan and hired senior scouts who had played and managed in the game and were tried and trusted talent-spotters.
Villa in 2015-16 were a joke on and off the pitch but before the end of the campaign it was to get far worse.