Heavily revered at Fulham after building 'Barcelona of the Championship': The lowdown on Slavisa Jokanovic after Sheffield United appointment
After Sheffield United confirmed that Slavisa Jokanovic was their new manager this afternoon, it spoke volumes that, dotted amongst the jubilant tweets and social media messages from Blades supporters, were numerous messages of support from fans of his former club Fulham.
Jokanovic is still revered at Craven Cottage after leading Fulham into the Premier League via the play-offs in 2018, before being sacked in November of the following season after a slow start.
But what is Jokanovic the manager actually like? His playing style and the way he goes about things? We asked Jack Collins from Fulhamish, the Fulham podcast, for the lowdown on the Serb…
Slavisa, in many ways, is still revered quite heavily around the Cottage. I think it goes like that when a manager is removed before the majority of people felt that he’d got his fair shot at the Premier League - especially after getting Fulham up there in remarkable style.
One win in those 12 Premier League games clearly wasn’t the start that the ownership had in mind, and a defeat to Huddersfield in the 11th clearly made the minds of the owners up, but there is a sense in some ways of ‘what if?’ - if Fulham had stuck with Jokanovic and his swashbuckling philosophy, even if that first year had been relegation, where would the club be at this point?
The highs were incredibly high with Jokanovic. After surviving the first season having been handed a poor squad midway through the 15/16 campaign, shrewd recruitment and a summer to implement his strategy led to an immediate upturn in fortunes, as Fulham became a neutral’s favourite over the next two years - all slick movement, rampaging full-backs and an interchangeable front three who tore defences apart.
"Didn't expect this", "Got to applaud the club" - Sheffield United fans react as Slavisa Jokanovic is appointed as manager
Tom Cairney, moved to his favoured 10 position, with Stefan Johansen alongside him and Kevin McDonald behind, suddenly erupted into the best playmaker in the league. Johansen became an all-conquering No.8 who scored double figures.
Edged out by a resilient Reading side over two legs in the play-offs in the first season, Fulham came back even stronger the year after as Jokanovic guided the Whites back to the promised land with a win at Wembley.
The Barcelona of the Championship
Slavisa’s football was slick, clean and when it worked, it felt like Fulham were the best team on Earth - the ‘Barcelona of the Championship.’ Scott Malone ran riot down one wing, only for Ryan Sessegnon to come in the next year and score an absolute shed-load from left-back and then left-wing.
Tim Ream was suddenly transformed stylistically into Franz Beckenbauer, a possession-heavy centre-back who evaded presses for fun. The goals were spread around the team, and it meant that Fulham, whilst incredibly wedded to a way of playing, were by no means one-dimensional in their form of attacking.
Slav’s way or the high way
The flipside, I suppose, was Jokanovic’s stubbornness. Whilst not a huge issue in the Championship, where most teams can go toe-to-toe, I remember being at the Etihad five games into the new Premier League season, where Fulham tried to outplay and outpossess Pep’s eventual champions, which as you might imagine, didn’t really work.
Jokanovic believed in his philosophy, and whether that was naive or just needed time, perhaps we’ll never know. He’s a big personality, and he knows what he wants - in some ways it felt like ‘my way or the high way’ at times. But often his way seemed like the way that the fans were willing to follow, and there’s no doubt his style inspired Fulham to dream of bigger things.
Thanks to Jack at Fulhamish for his time – find them on Twitter at @FulhamishPod or at fulhamish.co.uk.