James Shield's Sheffield United Column: Jokanovic, the right man at the right time, is about to take charge
This time next week, Slavisa Jokanovic will be in the house.
Hopefully he doesn’t leave the building for a good few years. By which time, if everything goes according to plan, Sheffield United aren’t only back in the Premier League but also established as a top-flight football club.
On Thursday, when the former Yugoslavia, Chelsea and Deportivo La Coruna midfielder makes his first appearance at the Steelphalt Academy, it will be a historic moment for his new employers.
The Serb is their first overseas manager and, by appointing someone whose passport contains more stamps and visas than Paul Theroux, United will finally be able to rid themselves of the ‘Brexit Rovers’ tag which used to frustrate the hell out of his predecessor Chris Wilder.
No appointment comes with a cast iron guarantee, as Nigel Adkins’ eminently forgettable spell in South Yorkshire proves. But, make no mistake, Jokanovic was always the stand-out candidate for the vacancy which was created when Wilder parted company with United in March. After, whatever your thoughts on the politicking which hastened his exit, delivering two promotions a ninth placed finish in arguably the world’s most competitive division and putting his boyhood club back on the map.
Wilder leaves behind a pair of mighty big boots. But after flirting with some options which seemed rooted in style rather than substance, United finally appointed the guy who can fill them.
Jokanovic has pedigree, having led both Watford and Fulham out of the Championship before taking charge of Qatari outfit Al-Gharafa. He also has presence. A quality whoever took charge following Wilder’s departure was always going to need in order to command respect and authority within a dressing room full of no-nonsense professionals with noses for meaningless buzzwords and spin.
Crucially, given the high-esteem they held Wilder in, Jokanovic looks set to inspire the supporters too. And that, after watching United slide meekly out of the division last term, is also vital.
Jokanovic should be good for United. But United should be good for Jokanovic too.
What his predecessor liked to describe as a “proper” club, they are located in a “proper” city too - one built using the same qualities - industry and innovation - Jokanovic instils in his teams.
In a sense, he takes charge at the perfect moment too. With United surrendering their PL status last term, Jokanovic admittedly inherits a squad low on confidence. But not calibre, with many of those who got them up in the first place still in situ and an exciting crop of young talent beginning to make its way through the system. They will be receptive to his ideas, and also malleable.
Jokanovic, whose apprenticeships both on the pitch and inside the technical area were completed in the powderkeg world that is Balkans football, will not be cowed by the challenge he faces after signing a three year contract with United. And United should benefit from the new ideas, the sense of purpose and clear vision about how the game should be played, that he brings.
Who knows what will happen. But, on paper at least, Jokanovic looks like the right man, in the right job, at the right time.