Tim Sherwood has revitalised Aston Villa, but how long will it last?
Tim Sherwood's brief time as a manager has produced few definitive conclusions beyond the clear proof of his capacity to divide opinion.
He has become one of the Premier League's most compelling figures, one who has coached two of the country's great institutional clubs in Tottenham and Aston Villa yet whose credentials remain debated.
For every person who believes he's a character, someone views him as a chancer. Those who argue he is the great hope of English management have others who bite back and say his star will fade.
He has made an auspicious start to life on the touchline. Sherwood famously possesses the best win percentage of any Tottenham manager in the Premier League. On Saturday, he could become only the second English manager in the last 20 years, after Harry Redknapp, to win the FA Cup. He may secure Aston Villa's first trophy for almost two decades and, still more remarkably, their first FA Cup for 58 years. Yet he is a man whose managerial life spans just 43 games and around eight months over two clubs.
Perhaps the most extraordinary element of Sherwood's career is that he is a manager who could win a trophy before he has signed a player. Scott Sinclair's loan move from Manchester City will become permanent but that was organised before his appointment at Villa.
The inspired interim Roberto Di Matteo did not bring in any of Chelsea's 2012 Champions League winners but at least he had signed players in previous jobs at MK Dons and West Brom. Sherwood has bought precisely no one.
It is one reason to wonder just how fine a manager he is, or will be. He is utterly unproved in some respects. Sherwood is yet to show he can build a team, or rebuild one, as he may have to if Christian Benteke, Tom Cleverley and Ron Vlaar leave Villa in the summer. He has never had the chance to demonstrate he can bring sustainable success or the opportunity to unveil a long-term plan.
He has been the entertaining answer for clubs worn down by overly intense managers, one who has had an immediate impact at White Hart Lane and Villa Park by being the opposite of Andre Villas-Boas and Paul Lambert respectively. He has championed policies and players they have discarded, breathing a wind of change into demoralised clubs.
Over several years, however, managers cannot prosper simply by not being someone else. Sherwood has proved capable of providing a mid-season injection of optimism. Next year should prove just how adept he is at setting the direction of an entire club.
Thus far he has been the advocate of youth, a man who seems to deem British best wherever possible and one who seems gloriously unconcerned if players object to his methods. He has identified underused, untried talent -- Nabil Bentaleb, Harry Kane and Jack Grealish, although curiously not Carles Gil -- and galvanised underachievers with questionable attitudes in Emmanuel Adebayor and Charles N'Zogbia.
His turnaround at Villa should not be underestimated. The Premier League's prize bores had mustered a mere 12 goals in 25 league games under Lambert (0.48 per game). They were more than three times as prolific under Sherwood, scoring 19 times in 13 matches (1.46 per game).
He was the ideal remedy to the negativity, dourness and lack of ambition of the late-period Lambert's Villa. Midfielders have been reinvigorated by his positivity. Instead of passing the ball sideways, Cleverley has been allowed to run forward. Instead of sitting deep, Fabian Delph has been permitted to show his physical power by surging up field. Instead of being an isolated, impotent striker, Benteke has become a goal machine again.
Sherwood swiftly recognised they were better players than their performances indicated and was quick to restore confidence. Positive man-management appears his main asset. There are times when he seems a bullish everyman, looking sceptically at science. If any manager seems likely to repeat Redknapp's infamous instructions to substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko -- "just f---ing run around a bit" -- the sense is it is Sherwood.
Perhaps he would have been a more natural fit in the era of Brian Clough, Malcolm Allison and Tommy Docherty, big egos with big mouths, when charisma and one-liners formed part of a manager's armoury and when players were expected to cope with biting witticisms.
Certainly, Sherwood taps into a strain of anti-intellectualism that is prevalent in football. He is the antidote to the 21st-century geeks. Brendan Rodgers, Louis van Gaal and Roberto Martinez may be heralding the age of the tactical mastermind. "Tactics Tim," seemingly an advocate of an old-fashioned, unimaginative 4-4-2 for Spurs, represents a throwback to simpler times.
Villa's semifinal triumph over Liverpool, when Sherwood comprehensively outthought Rodgers, could seem a victory for the Luddites. Alternatively, it highlighted the benefits of bold decision-making. Sherwood's initial 4-3-3 system enabled him to prevail against Rodgers' 3-4-2-1.
When the Liverpool manager switched shape time and again in ever more desperate attempts to reverse the result, Sherwood did not indulge in similar micromanagement. His formation was working. He didn't change it, no matter how many times Rodgers altered his.
While Sherwood kept Villa up and took Spurs to sixth, that semifinal match represented his biggest win. His Tottenham team triumphed at Old Trafford last season and his Villa team at White Hart Lane this year but Sherwood is yet to shake off the perception that he prospers when he has better players than the opposition, but has problems when the opposite applies. It is then, with inferior personnel, that strategic skills and defensive nous can be essential. In his embryonic managerial career, he is yet to beat a top-four finisher.
It is Le Professeur against the graduate from the school of life, the man with the faulty raincoat against English football's most famous gilet owner. It has contributed to the caricature of an image, and there is more to Sherwood than the gilet-wearing, shooting-from-the-hip cartoon.
One who seems to act instinctively actually deliberated long and hard about which job to take after leaving Tottenham, realising it could define him. In the end, it wasn't West Brom, Crystal Palace or QPR. He took his brand of bravado to Villa. His brashness could bring a reward none of their previous 20 managers earned -- an FA Cup.
Or perhaps he could follow in the footsteps of Roberto Mancini, Kenny Dalglish and Alan Pardew, who were all sacked within 12 months of losing a final. Maybe even of Steve Bruce, who was relegated a year after taking Hull to Wembley. That is the thing with Sherwood. It really is too soon to say how good he is.