The top job at Spurs is proving an all-consuming task for the new manager and he now visits Old Trafford
Tim Sherwood seized the moment. Now he is starting to realise what that means. "It's a complete lifestyle change," says the 44-year-old as he prepares for his biggest test since his sudden jump from the Tottenham Hotspur background to centre stage. Manchester United at Old Trafford may or may not be as daunting a fixture as it once was but Wednesday's game certainly represents a stiffer challenge than anything else Tottenham's new head coach has faced in his embryonic managerial career.
When Spurs embarked on a lavish revamp of their squad in the summer they hardly envisaged entrusting it to a complete novice but that is what Sherwood persuaded them to do after the club dismissed André Villas-Boas two weeks ago. His promotion from technical director was initially intended as a stopgap while Spurs sought someone more experienced but he insisted he deserved the gig longer term and his boldness was rewarded just before Christmas when he was given an 18-month contract. He has the power he craved – and all the responsibilities that go with it.
"There are so many added pressures," he says. "The game, the job and the club are on my mind all the time. I expected that after learning from the managers I have worked with. It is their life and they live it completely. I try to go home and switch off but it's extremely difficult. I don't sleep and, when you do, you wake up after two hours thinking about [Emmanuel] Adebayor. That can't be right. But it's better it's me waking up thinking about him than my missus."
Joking aside, he says it is a boon that his wife is no fan of the game that might otherwise consume him. "My missus has no interest in football whatsoever and that helps when I go home. I have been with her for 20-odd years and she watched me play eight times. The reason she is with me is because I told her I'd won the World Cup. But seriously it suits me. She's a great support to me and our family and it's a normal life, which is cool. I am happy with that."
It is not only Sherwood's life that has changed. There has also been a clear shift in Tottenham's playing style since he took over. His promise during his campaign to take the full-time job was that he would restore Spurs' adventurous spirit and get the best out of what is a richly talented group of players. His most obvious alteration has been to play with two strikers rather than one, in the process recalling Adebayor from the internal exile that had been imposed on him by Villas-Boas. He has also put less emphasis than his predecessor on inverted wingers and Aaron Lennon has revelled again down the right. Equally the tempo and directness that Sherwood advocates has pleased supporters, while players such as Christian Eriksen have lauded the new freedom and enterprise.
Yet Sherwood still has much to do to prove his appointment shrewd. His four matches so far have brought handsome victories over Stoke City and Southampton, a frustrating home draw with West Bromwich Albion and a Capital One Cup defeat by West Ham.
The trip to Old Trafford is likely to be tougher than all of those assignments. Sherwood's style is closer to Harry Redknapp's than that of Villas-Boas but it was under the Portuguese manager that Tottenham won at Old Trafford last season for the first time in 23 years. Some supporters fear Sherwood's up-and-at-'em approach will be shown up as simplistic. However, he is convinced his team can be savvy as well as exciting. That is despite a lengthy injury list that now includes the influential midfielder Paulinho, who will miss the next month after his ankle was damaged on Sunday in a tackle by Stoke's Charlie Adam.
"We've got good players here with experience as well and it's just about them recognising when to put their foot on the ball and kill the game to give us a bit of breathing space," he says. "I think we can go to Old Trafford and have attacking threats on the field. You have to be a little bit more cautious, obviously. The last thing you want to do there is concede early because then you are chasing the game and they have players who are world-class and can pick you off. But we've got good players as well. We've just got to go to play and enjoy it. Old Trafford is a great arena to play in and we have to try to impose ourselves on them."