Sheffield United Pre-Season: Blades are encouraged to take one potentially very wise step
Sheffield United have been encouraged to base themselves in the UK during pre-season, in order to prevent their preparations being disrupted by Covid-19.
After being forced to cancel a training camp in Evian-les-Bains because of the pandemic last summer, then manager Chris Wilder took his squad to Scotland instead where they played matches against both Heart of Midlothian and their namesakes from Dundee.
Although he did not say so publicly at the time, privately Wilder felt that being forced to tear-up a schedule which had been meticulously planned for months contributed to United’s poor start to the campaign and eventual relegation from the Premier League.
Having only appointed Slavisa Jokanovic as the 53-year-old’s replacement last month, officials at Bramall Lane have yet to confirm details of their schedule before returning to the Championship.
But some members of the club’s hierarchy are known to favour remaining in Britain to avoid being caught-out by changes to government travel restrictions.
A number of Wilder’s most influential performers missed the visits to Tannadice and Oriam - where they faced Hearts - together with later games against Derby County and Preston North End after being forced to self-isolate following trips abroad.
Those members of the coaching staff who remained in South Yorkshire following Wilder’s departure, including Paul Heckingbottom who took interim charge in March, began planning this summer’s programme before the end of the previous campaign. Although the plans were not set in stone - with United taking two months before installing Jokanovic - Heckingbottom explained it was to enable whoever replaced Wilder to “hit the ground running” when they eventually arrived at the Steelphalt Academy training complex.
As The Star revealed this week, Jokanovic has told United he will begin work on July 1; the day after his contract with Qatari club Al-Gharafa expires.
He was briefed on the ideas formulated by Heckingbottom and Jan van Winckel, United’s owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud trusted advisor and de facto director of football, before signing a three year agreement.
Jokanovic is understood to have been broadly supportive of what was being proposed, despite reserving the right to make his own changes to venues and opponents.