Sheffield United: Delving into Slavisa Jokanovic's favourite sayings and why battle for promotion won't be decided by tactics
Consider the qualities required to become a successful professional footballer and some familiar traits, including technique, athleticism and tactical nous, are likely to feature towards the top of your list.
But how do you measure the ones which truly separate the best from the also-rans? Things like imagination, vision, bravery and personality which, as those who regularly listen to his musings on the sport, is fast becoming one of Slavisa Jokanovic’s favourite English words.
“For me, personality is how you love the game,” the Sheffield United manager said when asked, before tomorrow’s game at AFC Bournemouth, to define exactly what he means. “For me, the things I can’t accept are people showing the wrong kind of body language or giving up on what they are doing.
“In our game, there are three possible outcomes whenever we are on the pitch. The possibility exists to get a good result and also a bad one. I understand that and I accept that. But what I don’t understand or accept is when someone might be unsuccessful with two passes, they then stop running.
“If you do not feel you are good enough on the field then try to put yourself in a better position. So, if you ask me again, personality means taking responsibility.”
Jokanovic’s interpretation has been shaped not only by his own career, which saw him perform alongside names including Predrag Mijatovic, Robert Prosinecki, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Gianfranco Zola, but also spells in charge of clubs including Partizan Belgrade, Watford and Fulham. In the Serbian capital, the meeting with Red Star is one of the fiercest and most combustible matches on the planet.
At both Vicarage Road and Craven Cottage, the pressure Jokanovic faced came from above as his employers demanded - and eventually got - promotion. It explains not only Jokanovic’s refusal to criticise his team at the beginning of the campaign when, still licking their wounds after being relegated from the Premier League, they failed to win any of their five Championship outings following his appointment. But also why he is so fiercely protective of players who make mistakes.
Jack Robinson, guilty of errors against both Peterborough and Preston North End, might have been dropped for the visit to Hull City earlier this month. But only after Jokanovic publicly confronted, albeit in the most diplomatic fashion possible, the United defender’s critics.
“You need to show personality in front of supporters,” he said. “That is why we always encourage our players to be brave, to play and to show they can do things in a different way.
“If you show and give everything on the field, then people will be satisfied with you. To begin with, we could show more concentration at times. But we couldn’t show more personality.”
United enter their assignment against Bournemouth in pretty decent form. Held - or hanging on, to be more accurate - to a goalless draw at Luton Town before the international break, they have since beaten Darren Ferguson’s men 6-2, split the points with North End, dispatched City 3-1 and edged past Derby County before losing to Middlesbrough on Tuesday. A week earlier their Carabao Cup clash with Southampton had finished all-square, Ralph Hasenhuttl later acknowledging it was “impossible to tell the difference” between the bodies of work produced by the two squads, saw his progress on penalties.
“I have the sensation that we have grown up a lot,” Jokanovic continued. “We need to be still more focused and show still more personality in crucial moments though.
“If you complain and cry when people score, no. Show personality. Football is for strong and intelligent people. We need everything in our game. We have those things but we need to show them over the season. Not a week or two.”