Sheffield United: More evidence that a managerial change had been decided upon long before the axe fell on Slavisa Jokanovic

You don’t have to be John Rebus to work out that Slavisa Jokanovic was destined to be sacked by Sheffield United long before news of his departure began seeping into the media last week.

Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 11:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 11:03 am

Yusuf Giansiracusa, the Championship club’s chairman, admitted he had already decided to wield the axe regardless of Tuesday night’s result at Reading.

“Even if we’d have won 5-0,” Giansiracusa told journalists, when Paul Heckingbottom was immediately installed following the Serb’s official exit on Thursday, “It wouldn’t have made a difference.” Jokanovic’s fate, thanks to a series of indifferent results and imperfect relationship with United’s hierarchy, had already been sealed before the 1-0 victory in Berkshire.

Now Heckingbottom’s new assistant, former Scotland midfielder Stuart McCall, has effectively confirmed that work on bringing Jokanovic’s brief and troubled reign to a close began long before United began preparing for their visit to the Select Car Leasing Stadium. Sources within the game, whose theories have not been disputed by those closer to Bramall Lane, have told The Star that work on making change began during the last international break; which Jokanovic’s team entered on the back of a 3-1 defeat at Blackburn Rovers.

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“It’s been a whirlwind to be honest, everything has happened so quickly I’m not really sure what day it is,” McCall admitted during a conversation with reporters following training on Tuesday. “Hecky called me out of the blue, just for a chat.

“He asked me in the future if I could see myself working with him. He knew I’d only just gone to Blackpool and that I was enjoying myself.”

“I was thinking he was talking about the future, much further down the line,” continued McCall, previously number two at Bloomfield Road. “Then on Wednesday I got another call and I was told there was a possibility a change might be made.”

CEO Stephen Bettis, chairman Yusuf Giansiracusa and director Abdullah bin Yousef Alghamdi at a press conference to unveil Paul Heckingbottom (second left) as Slavisa Jokanovic's replacament as Sheffield United manager: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Heckingbottom was handed a contract lasting until 2026 when he was unveiled six days ago, although any release clauses written into it remain undisclosed.

After winning his first match in permanent charge, when Bristol City were dispatched 2-0 on Sunday, Heckingbottom oversees his second game since replacing Jokanovic at Cardiff City this weekend.

Jokanovic, a promotion winner with Watford and Fulham before being hired by United, won nine and drew six of his 23 matches at the helm.

Slavisa Jokanovic was sacked as Sheffield United manager last week, despite enjoying great success elsewhere: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Stuart McCall, Paul Heckinbottom and Jack Lester at Sheffield United's training complex: Simon Bellis/Sportimage