Tim Sherwood has warned all of his Tottenham Hotspur squad that they are playing for their futures at the club following the miserable capitulation against Chelsea on Saturday, a result that sparked a heated two-hour team meeting to clear the air after the manager had vehemently questioned his side's character in public.
Spurs, who play Benfica in the Europa League last 16 on Thursday night, slumped to a 4-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge and their midfielder Sandro revealed that following Sherwood's stinging criticism all members of the first-team squad became engulfed in a passionate debate that caused certain players to lose their cool. The Brazilian did, though, claim the meeting was a productive exercise as Tottenham prepare to play the Portuguese runners-up at White Hart Lane before facing Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday.
However, fuelling further uncertainty at the club, Sherwood on Wednesday revealed that he had already discussed potential sales of players with the chairman, Daniel Levy.
Sherwood said he spoke with Levy earlier in the week at Tottenham's training ground about pre-season preparations for the next campaign, appearing confident that he would remain in his position, despite Louis van Gaal and Frank de Boer having been linked with the London club.
"Anyone can get outplayed," said Sherwood of his side's performance against Chelsea, which left them four points adrift of a Manchester City side who have three games in hand, and two more worse off than Arsenal, who have one match to make up. "What you cannot do is get outfought and out-desired and I do not want to see that happening again, that capitulation. I want the same desire and attitude from minute one to minute 95. I won't tolerate anything less than that and the players know that now. I want players who want to play for the club and they've got between now and the end of the season to show that. I don't think at any football club any player should be doing the club a favour by playing for them.
"It's come to a stage where we have to start looking at pre-season. I'm the one planning it at the moment and looking at different personnel. The boys here have an opportunity to prove that they want to stay. If not, they'll be moved on and we'll look for replacements. I know the DNA of the guys and I know the ones I can trust and those I can't."
Asked which players were playing for their future, Sherwood added: "All of them. Everyone gets a second chance. They've got an opportunity to respond, they know what's required. It's about rolling your sleeves up in adversity and that's what I'm looking for. The players are men; I'm a manager not a babysitter."
Gary Lineker voiced his concern in the aftermath of Sherwood's comments on Wednesday, saying that the manager would do better to keep criticism of his players behind closed doors.
The Match of the Day presenter commented on Twitter: "Fascinating, honest but ultimately, I feel, unwise public condemnation of his own players by Tim Sherwood. Private, always the best way." The former Tottenham striker added: "There is no quicker way to lose the confidence and trust of your players than to slag them off publicly."
Sherwood's post-match remarks at Chelsea had already drawn comment from certain quarters, including Glenn Hoddle. Speaking before Lineker had aired his concerns, the manager said of the criticism: "Some people who said it haven't been in the game for a long time."
Sandro is expected to start against Benfica, although Erik Lamela is out and Michael Dawson will miss the game with a hamstring problem. Mousa Dembélé and Christian Eriksen are in contention to feature.
Sherwood claimed Tottenham's European campaign is now more important than the weekend fixture against Arsenal but insisted Spurs could still claw their way into the Champions League places by the end of the season.
Sandro, meanwhile, believes that all Tottenham's players are ready to roll up their sleeves after the heated meeting in the aftermath of the defeat by Chelsea. "We spent more than two hours in a meeting among the players and we said what we had to say. Everyone was [shouting]. Sometimes when you lose games in that way everyone gets cross and we all scream and shout," said Sandro.
"It was after the manager's conference with the press. We had a meeting with the players. Sometimes one player got a bit more stressed out and we tried to calm him down. Every player had their fair share to say, let's put it that way.
"From now on if someone is not doing their work properly, then I think now we – especially the older players – can say something. In the past we probably didn't say anything because we didn't want anyone to take it the wrong way. From now on we will pull our sleeves up and tell whoever is not doing their job."
Tottenham Hotspur v Benfica, Europa League last 16 first leg, 8.05pm Thursday 12 March
Tottenham (4-4-2, possible): Lloris; Walker, Kaboul, Vertonghen, Rose; Sandro, Dembélé, Eriksen, Lennon; Soldado, Adebayor.
Benfica (4-4-2, possible): Artur; André Almeida, Luisão, Jardel, Sílvio; Fejsa, Rúben Amorim; Salvio, Sulejmani; Djuricic, Cardozo.
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Swe)