James Shield: New Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom's encouraging proclamation as criticism of Slavisa Jokanovic backfires
Family, friends, loved ones and even casual acquaintances will know I’m not at its cutting edge
Still, as the band Senser once proclaimed, “Fashion is something so ugly it has to be changed every 15 minutes” whereas “style is something versatile.” It’s a pretty nice line, don’t you think?
Many years ago, I went to one of their gigs with a pal who was involved in the business. Designing clothes that is. Nor rock music. One of the things she used to say was that “you should own an outfit, not let the outfit own you.” It was a mantra I’ve been reminded of on numerous occasions lately, as Sheffield United searched for a winning formula. Pre and post Slavisa Jokanovic, whose appointment and then sacking after only five months in post acts as an important reminder: Despite positioning themselves as great fonts of knowledge, many of those involved in the decision-making process at clubs seldom do their research or stick to strategies - no matter how many times they attempt to convince us otherwise.
Both the Serb and Paul Heckingbottom, who took charge of United last week, have utilised the 3-5-2 system favoured by Chris Wilder during his hugely successful reign. Two promotions and a ninth placed Premier League finish, achieved on the back of overlapping centre-halves and enterprising wing backs, made United the talk of English football for a couple of seasons until they came back down to earth - and the Championship - with a bump earlier this year.
Jokanovic wanted to do something different. But, after trialling an alternative, felt he didn’t have the players. The Serb probably didn’t expect the ones he wanted to be delivered either. Which did little to foster good relations between him and the board.
Heckingbottom, who despite suggestions to the contrary knows results will decide how long he remains in charge, is happy to press ahead with a three man defence. Certainly, having operated with one almost exclusively since Wilder’s appointment in 2016, the personnel at his disposal are more comfortable and better suited to working this way than in a four.
But it was encouraging to hear Heckingbottom refuse to rule-out a switch in the future during his unveiling last week. Because in order to achieve, United must be flexible. Remember when they were accused of being too predictable before relegation from the top-flight was confirmed?
The best sides, the ones who deliver prolonged success, aren’t slaves to a formation. They ‘own’ their own destinies.
*Speaking of successful teams, it was disappointing to hear several people connected with United’s senior squad talk cryptically about “standards” when the dust began to settle on Jokanovic’s departure.
Although they might not have meant it, many observers viewed their words as being critical of the Serb - suggesting they’d been allowed to drop on his watch both during training and in games.
If these comments were deliberate digs, then they actually reflect worse on many of those making them than Jokanovic himself.
Yes, owners, managers and coaches set the tone for what happens beneath them. But don’t tell me that Ronaldo and Lionel Messi need to be reminded about the importance of always being on point or believe it’s someone else’s responsibility to make sure everything they do is of the utmost quality.