Alan Biggs: Slavisa Jokanovic was the only appointment that can let Sheffield United move on from Chris Wilder saga

“The next best thing” is how I’ve heard Blades fans describe Slavisa Jokanovic’s appointment in place of Chris Wilder.

Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 12:05 pm

It sounds like a back-handed compliment. It isn’t. The next best thing was a tough act to achieve and, you sense, required Sheffield United to make a great deal more compromise than they afforded their revered former manager.

It doesn’t matter how you get there, just that you get there in the end.

It matters not that there was a feeling of Bramall Lane’s rulers being driven to it rather than driving it forward. Or that a young German coach was courted with Jokanovic initially ignored and that United flirted with the idea of promoting interim manager Paul Heckingbottom.

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What does matter a very great deal is that owner Prince Abdullah, in striking an essential blow for the credibility of his regime, has hired clearly the best man for the job and dramatically improved the club’s chances of a swift return to the Premier League.

It’s not only that the former Watford and Fulham promotion-winner is looking to accomplish this for the third time. Just as important is how his appointment has reset the mood inside and outside the club.

Slavisa Jokanovic will officially take charge of Sheffield United later this summer:  Clive Rose/Getty Images
Slavisa Jokanovic will officially take charge of Sheffield United later this summer: Clive Rose/Getty Images

There will still be some uncertainty in the dressing room - which is normal in a changeover - but not about the ambition and future direction of the club.

Good players who might have looked to jump ship are likely to want to be on board with this regime. Certainly they will respect Jokanovic instantly - and he has a knowledgeable respect for them, enough to realise he has most of the tools for the job already.

It’s a huge move-on moment for the club and one it desperately needed.

Not that Wilder’s deeds will be forgotten or that the vast majority of fans still wouldn’t have preferred for him to stay. Indeed, I believe - as does he - that he is destined to return one day.

But you can’t keep dwelling on a mistake, however regrettable and avoidable, and United have finally taken the only course of action to move on past.

A scale-down couldn’t have worked. Jokanovic will not have come cheap, and his operational demands may have tested the board. There is no point recruiting someone of his stature and then cramping his style.

But perhaps the most vital reset is in the stands. Where there could have been an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion now there is one of belief.

A degree of patience also. Across a three-year contract, assuming the much-travelled Serb stays that long, you’d expect him to succeed.