James Shield's Sheffield United Column: The most important audiences to impress as the great managerial show continues

Sheffield United’s managerial auditions are being performed in front of two different audiences.

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 5:59 pm

And in order to arrive at the right decision they must assess the reactions of both to the prospect of either watching or working under every single one of the names on what is now, after club officials finally reached out to Slavisa Jokanovic, a six man shortlist also thought to include Oostende’s Alexander Blessin, Philippe Clement of Club Brugge, maybe Lincoln City’s Michael Appleton and Scott Parker at Fulham but definitely Paul Heckingbottom; the guy currently in caretaker charge.

For a host of reasons, not least the fact they have been forced to watch from afar as United spiralled towards relegation from the Premier League this term, whoever replaces Chris Wilder must help reconnect the club with its support base. Succeeding someone who twice delivered promotion and then a ninth placed top-flight finish during what was a remarkable five year reign will be tough enough with the backing of the fans. Even tougher without, given the standards they will be expected to adhere to.

True, the fans are and always will be the most important people at United. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, as some of their counterparts across the country protested against the proposed creation of a European Super League, they can also be the most influential.

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Slavisa Jokanovic appears the outstanding candidate to take charge of Sheffield United: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

But in this instance, I’d respectfully suggest the most important figures to consider are those inside the dressing room. Already consigned to the drop and having been beaten into psychological submission over the past few months, United’s squad clearly in desperate need of a pick-me-up. With several of its members likely to be lured away this summer, the next commander-in-chief must have the presence, the CV and the sheer force of personality required to convince others who might waver than it is worth sticking around for another 12 months at least. It is for precisely this reason that many folk feel Jokanovic, who led Watford and Fulham out of the Championship before joining Qatari outfit Al-Gharafa, is the outstanding candidate. (That is not to say the others don’t also have their own special qualities).

At such a critical stage of United’s development, their new gaffer or head coach, depending upon which route they decide to go down, must immediately command the respect and the attention of a group which, despite being desperately short of confidence, was effectively constructed in Wilder’s own combative image. Footballers question. They are critical and essentially - given you have to be to turn professional in the first place - pretty selfish individuals, who will quickly lose interest in listening to someone they suspect isn’t up to the job.

Speaking of that, and having seen plenty on social media suggesting Heckingbottom falls into that category, I find it hard to fathom the tone of some of the criticism being directed towards Heckingbottom right now. I say ‘the tone’ because even he will accept results and performances have, by and large, been disappointing on his watch. But he didn’t covet the post, was dealt a pretty crappy hand when he stepped into the breach two months ago and has been instrumental in developing some of the exciting young talents now filtering through to senior level. For that and that alone, he deserves respect.

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Oostende's head coach Alexander Blessin: KURT DESPLENTER/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images
Paul Heckingbottom (L) is in caretaker charge of Sheffield United: Simon Bellis/ Sportimage