By Greg Stobart
It took less than five minutes of his managerial debut last December for Tim Sherwood to demonstrate the touchline histrionics that would become a defining trope of his time at Tottenham.
‘How the **** is that not a free-kick?’ Sherwood roared at the fourth official in full earshot of the press box that was filled almost exclusively to report on him and his chances of replacing Andre Villas-Boas permanently.
Around 10 yards from Sherwood, in the visiting technical area, Sam Allardyce bellowed with laughter. “I didn’t think you would get the hang of this so quickly!” the West Ham manager joked as the pair exchanged a hug and a smile.
Less than five months later, there will be a far more serious atmosphere on the two benches when Spurs travel to Upton Park on Saturday lunchtime. This time, both managers knows they are likely to be looking for new jobs in the summer.
Just six miles separate these two great London rivals but more than bragging rights are at stake this weekend as West Ham look to record their third victory of the season over Spurs, having won 3-0 in the league at White Hart Lane and 2-1 in the Capital One Cup.
|18/1||Tottenham are 18/1 with bet365 to beat West Ham 3-0|
Whether it be through Tweets, banners or chants, the fans have made it clear that they want a change in manager ahead of next season. Flags reading ‘Fat Sam Out’ leave little room for interpretation.
The complaints are similar for both Allardyce and Sherwood: results have not been good enough, the football has been dreadful to watch, their media soundbites are frustrating and disrespectful.
The owners, all but certainly in Tottenham’s case, are likely to respond and make changes in the summer by bringing in new men. If there is one thing that truly terrifies a chairman or chief executive, it is the prospect of fan anger towards a manager turning towards the boardroom.
Yet, really, do the supporters have any right to demand more from the teams this season? Is misty-eyed nostalgia allowing delusions of grandeur to pervade on the terraces?
The names of the past greats in east and north London roll off the tongue. From Moore to Blanchflower, Brooking to Hoddle, Hurst to Greaves, from Peters to Mackay.
But now it’s James Tomkins and Matt Jarvis against Danny Rose and Nacer Chadli.
They may have plenty of justifiable and legitimate reasons to demand a change - both Sherwood and Allardyce have considerable flaws and have made many mistakes this season.
But when the changes come, neither West Ham nor Spurs are in a position to demand more than they deserve. The fact is that the two clubs are, at the moment, where they belong; where they’ve been for a while.
Yes it could be better, but Sherwood and Allardyce have not failed as spectacularly as many like to make out.
Forget notions that West Ham and Tottenham play football the ‘proper’ way. Outside the top four, only Southampton and Swansea could claim to play with any notable passing philosophy and neither have particularly set the world alight this season.
Good football is winning football, whatever style it takes to meet or surpass expectations.
A club’s wage bill is usually thought to be the best indicator of a team’s strength relative to the rest of the Premier League.
Tottenham have the sixth highest wage bill in the division and currently occupy sixth place having finished fifth last season. West Ham had the 14th highest wage bill last season and - guess what? - they sit in 14th place in the table.
So, really, Sherwood and Allardyce have delivered what you would expect relative to the amount the clubs spend on salaries.
Sherwood’s record of 11 victories from 18 matches means in his short spell he has a better win percentage than any of his predecessors, as he has made sure to remind people. Allardyce has succeeded in his primary target of keeping the Hammers in the Premier League as they prepare to move in to the Olympic Stadium in 2016.
The Spurs board will feel the club should have qualified for the Champions League after spending more than £100m in the transfer market, despite selling their star player for a world record fee.
West Ham will wonder whether they have floundered money on the likes of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Modibo Maiga.
More than anything, the impression is one of demanding supporters who simply don’t like the men representing their clubs, whether it’s Allardyce cupping his ear towards his own crowd or Sherwood saying he’ll be “knocking out as many people as I can” on the touchline.
In an era dominated by the cult of personality, they just aren’t popular. It’s created palpable hostility and negativity at matches this season at White Hart Lane and Upton Park.
Malky Mackay and Frank de Boer may unite the fans and be more popular, but they offer no guarantees.
On Saturday, West Ham and Tottenham face each other with nothing to play for when it comes to their league ambitions, only pride and reputation are at stake. It’s a rather boring scenario.
But it’s time the supporters accept that they are exactly where they belong.