James Shield's Sheffield United's Column: Greystones Road, gegenpressing and what brings real change

Everyone enjoys change.

Thursday, 8th April 2021, 6:05 pm

Well, unless you’ve just been kicked into touch by your partner, wife or hubby. Then, admittedly, it won’t feel quite so great.

Although news of Chris Wilder’s departure was akin to a divorce for many, getting the boot by their girlfriend or boyfriend for others, a sizeable portion of Sheffield United’s following is getting pretty excited about the arrival of a new manager or head coach. (Trust me, there’s a big difference).

Understandably so. Particularly as one of the guys the board clearly has in mind has an air of mystery about him. Alexander Blessin might be a big noise in Belgium, where he is making waves with Oostende. But in England, and pretty much the rest of the world in fact, the German certainly isn’t a household name.

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Which doesn’t mean he isn’t a hugely talented individual. Or that, if United plump for him and the legal minds at Bramall Lane can identify a solution to the small matter of post-Brexit work permit legislation, he wouldn’t be able to fill Wilder’s boots. Having made an immediate impression at the Versluys Arena, his first senior post, the 47-year-old clearly has something about him.

Likewise Slavisa Jokanovic, previously of Watford and Fulham. The Serb’s credentials are obvious.

The links between United and Blessin, whose tactical philosophy has been forensically examined by numerous specialist coaching commentators on the internet, enables us to wax lyrical about gegenpressing and other sexy phrases seldom heard around a club whose two promotions under Wilder were built on players from the Home Nations or the Republic of Ireland. Team meetings used to be held, pre Covid-19, in S11 coffee shops such as Costa and Gilmours; home to the beautiful people on Greystones Road. Nearly as beautiful as some of those who frequent Forge Dam cafe before enjoying a quick lunchtime stroll or jog through the woods.

Now, with an overseas gaffer potentially taking charge, things could become even more sophisticated.

A run through Forge Dam woods: Tony Johnson

A word, however, of caution. Given the tenor of the debate surrounding United right now, that will be interpreted by some as a slight on Blessin, the hierarchy or anyone who isn’t a member of Wilder’s inner circle. When truthfully it isn’t.

Whoever seizes the reins, whatever great ideas or qualities they’ve got, football either in the Premier League or the Championship, where United are heading following a dispiriting campaign, tends, (I repeat, tends), to be decided by one thing - money.

Which is a shame. But that’s what happened when myopic self-interest was allowed to design the fabric of the domestic game.

The best players know their worth. Even those yet to make a handful of senior appearances do too.

Oostende's head coach Alexander Blessin: KRISTOF VAN ACCOM/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

Even at innovative outfits such as Brentford, whose whole recruitment model could be threatened by the same bureaucracy complicating United’s route to Blessin, spend a fortune identifying, researching and analysing their left-field signings.

Norwich City, blazing a trail straight back up after doing a ‘United’ last term, are performing so well because they resisted the temptation to cash in on Emiliano Buendia and Teemu Pukki.

Unfortunately, Blessin, Jokanovic or another applicant for the role can have all the bright ideas and ability going. But ultimately, the extent of their achievements will be shaped by the financial gurus tasked with generating cash.

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A popular destination on Greystones Road
Another favourite haunt in S11
Slavisa Jokanovic: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images