Sheffield United: How Femi Seriki will be helped to recover following a torrid time at sister club Beerschot
New Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom has outlined the steps he is taking to ensure Femi Seriki can challenge for a starting place in the New Year.
The teenager’s loan at United’s sister club Beerschot was terminated before Heckingbottom was unveiled as Slavisa Jokanovic’s successor on Thursday, with a statement confirming “results” and “performances” contributed to the Serb’s departure.
However, as part of the strategic review chairman Yusuf Giansiracusa told The Star had paved the way for Heckingbottom’s appointment, the former Leeds and Hibernian chief “won’t be judged on what happens on a Saturday afternoon” according to another leading figure at Bramall Lane.
With Jokanovic selecting 21-year-old midfielder Iliman Ndiaye on 14 occasions before being sacked after less than five months in post and also handing opportunities to fellow youngsters Kacper Lopata, Zak Brunt, Kyron Gordon and Daniel Jebbison in the Carabao Cup, a renewed emphasis on home-grown talent was cited as one of the reasons why United decided to make a change.
With Seriki playing only six minutes of football after being dispatched to the Belgians, who like United form part of the United World network established by owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Heckingbottom has decided a plan designed to help the defender get back in shape for the second half of the Championship campaign.
"Femi's back now,” Heckingbottom confirmed. “He's ineligible to play until January but he's back in the building training with us. We're trying to arrange a few friendlies for Femi. He's back in the building.”
After making his debut during a Premier League fixture against Newcastle last season, as Heckingbottom stage-managed an orderly exit from the top-flight after being placed in caretaker charge following Chris Wilder’s departure, Seriki is viewed as one of the most gifted graduates of United’s development programme.
Although Jebbison declined an invitation to continue his education with Beerschot, preferring to complete a temporary transfer to Burton Albion when Jokanovic ruled that regular first team action would accelerate his progress, Serki did head to Antwerp; where Javier Torrente’s side are based.
The Argentine, a former colleague of Prince Abdullah’s sporting advisor Jan van Winckel at Marseille, was installed following Peter May’s exit.
Although Heckingbottom has been handed the title “football manager” at Giansiracusa’s behest - he spoke of promoting greater “synergy” within UW at Heckingbottom’s coronation - Torrente is Beerschot’s ‘head coach’. Despite enjoying an upturn in performances under Torrente, Beerschot entered this weekend’s round of matches at the bottom of the Jupiler Pro League table having won only two of their opening 15 games this season.
Seriki is scheduled to receive clearance to resume his career in England on January 1st, when Wilder, now in charge of Middlesbrough, returns to South Yorkshire. Jokanovic’s predecessor, who masterminded two promotions at United before leading them to a ninth placed finish in the PL, left his position following the deterioration of his relationship with directors.
After approaching Oostende’s Alexander Blessin about the vacant position and considering Heckingbottom for the permanent role, United’s hierarchy opted for Jokanovic instead after being impressed by a CV which includes two league and cup doubles at Partizan Belgrade and promotions from the Championship with Watford and Fulham. Those were achieved despite making slow starts to life at Vicarage Road and Craven Cottage.