Jokanovic, Blessin, Howe and, er, Wilder - The runners, riders and bookies' faves to be the next Sheffield United manager
It’s now been two and a half months since Chris Wilder’s departure from Sheffield United, and the Blades are still to appoint his successor.
Caretaker Paul Heckingbottom steadied the ship somewhat after Wilder’s departure, United finishing the season with three wins in their last six games and hopefully taking some momentum into the Championship next season.
Slavisa Jokanovic remains the favourite with both the bookmakers and a large section of fans to succeed Wilder, while a number of other names have also been mentioned.
As The Star revealed this morning, United have held a second round of talks with at least one of the managers on their shortlist of targets as they look to finalise the search for Wilder’s replacement.
And, with the club hoping to close in on a manager soon, we take a look at the runners and riders for one of the most important appointments in United’s recent history…
Slavisa Jokanović – current odds 1/3 (SkyBet)
On paper, the best man for the job based on his pedigree, experience and sheer weight of personality. Not one to not do things his own way, Jokanović is a proven winner at Championship level having led both Fulham and Watford into the top flight.
He’s available, with his contract at Qatari club Al-Gharafa about to expire, but won’t come cheap. He’s also likely to be in demand – West Brom are monitoring his situation, and Luke Dowling, the Baggies’ sporting director, worked with Jokanović at Vicarage Road.
The Serb wasn’t initially on United’s five-man shortlist for the job, but the Blades had a change of heart and made contact with his representatives after the defeat to Crystal Palace earlier this month.
Paul Heckingbottom – current odds 7/1
The man in possession of the job, as it were, and who was a serious candidate to get it after impressing the Bramall Lane hierarchy with his work after taking over on a caretaker basis.
But there seems to have been a shift in Heckingbottom’s public declarations recently, the former Leeds and Hibs chief admitting he had enjoyed his time in charge and acknowledging “the new manager” will have learnt a lot from United’s recent outings ahead of the final game of the season against Burnley.
Brought in by Wilder to work with the club’s U23s, Heckingbottom admits he will probably manage again in the future and featured on the shortlist for another EFL job in recent weeks.
But, as things stand, he looks more likely to resume his work with the U23s next season.
Alexander Blessin – current odds 8/1
Previously the overwhelming favourite choice of the Bramall Lane hierarchy to succeed Wilder, any approach for the KV Oostende boss would be complicated by the fact he would not qualify for a work permit to work as a manager in this country.
To obtain a Governing Body Endorsement, managers have to have been in charge in a “top league” for a prescribed amount of time – and Blessin, with one season in charge in Belgium, would not fulfil that criteria.
It’s easy to see why he was a person of interest, though. Oostende were relegation candidates when Covid-19 halted their season and under Blessin’s leadership, they were transformed into European contenders.
The fact he plays a 3-5-2 formation and a high-pressing style of football also earned him admirers at Bramall Lane, as did his success on a budget.
But post-Brexit red tape appears to have scuppered any hopes that he will be United’s first permanent manager from overseas.
Philippe Clement – current odds 10/1
Another manager currently working in Belgium – where United’s defacto director of football, Jan van Winckel, is based – Clement sealed his third Jupiler Pro League trophy recently when he steered Club Brugge to the top of the table.
Celebrations of that trophy win with the club’s supporters earned Clement and Brugge a reprimand from the city’s police force. The manager previously led Genk to the title in Belgium and his present deal has 12 months to run – putting clubs including United on red alert.
Clement managed Sander Berge at Genk and has experience in the Champions League – so may be persuaded to see out the last year of his contract in Belgium rather than switch to the Championship.
Eddie Howe – current odds 18/1
Probably the only saga that has gone on longer than United’s search for a new manager, Howe to Celtic suffered a fresh twist when Roy Hodgson announced he was leaving Crystal Palace recently.
Howe is still expected to be appointed at Parkhead at some stage.
Jason Tindall – current odds 20/1
Howe’s former No.2 at Bournemouth, Tindall had a crack at the Bournemouth job after his old boss left last summer but was sacked midway through the season.
An acquaintance of United’s chief executive Stephen Bettis, Tindall joined United as a coach in the wake of Wilder’s departure and has been assisting Heckingbottom of late. Knows the club and the players, but would hardly be the most inspiring appointment at a club looking to bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt.
Michel Der Zakarian – current odds 20/1
Something of a left-field shout, Der Zakarian has confirmed he will be leaving Montpellier this summer after finishing eighth in Ligue 1 and reaching the semi-finals of the Coupe de France, where they lost on penalties to the eventual winners Paris Saint-Germain.
The link to United came when Der Zakarian coyly hinted he was talking to clubs in England in an interview with the BBC.
The Armenian has enhanced his reputation in France and will be looking for a similarly attractive club as his next project.
Steve Cooper – current odds 20/1
A manager who could take United’s place in the Premier League next season after guiding Swansea to the Championship play-offs, Cooper is the manager who guided England’s U17s – including Rhian Brewster – to the World Cup back in 2017.
Another manager not shy of playing a 3-5-2 formation, Swansea would be reluctant to part with Cooper if any approach was ever made – and by this weekend, he may be a Premier League manager anyway if his Swans side beat Brentford at Wembley.
Chris Wilder – current odds 22/1
Still probably the best candidate to replace himself, Wilder has appeared on the bookies’ lists to return to Bramall Lane. Unfortunately it won’t happen and West Brom seems a much more likely destination for the manager who took United from League One into the Premier League, with two promotions in three seasons.
John Terry – current odds 22/1
Another left-field suggestion, the former Chelsea and England skipper is learning his trade as Dean Smith’s No.2 at Aston Villa and would be a huge risk, with no managerial experience on his CV.
But that didn’t hamper his old Stamford Bridge pal Frank Lampard too much, and Terry will have to start somewhere on the path to management in his own right.