Sheffield United: Slavisa Jokanovic reveals how he selects a captain

Plenty of managers like to insist they have them but Slavisa Jokanovic doesn’t believe a word of it.

Friday, 15th October 2021, 4:30 pm

“Eleven captains in a team? You can believe that if you want but no, it’s not possible,” he said. “You can have big personalities and strong characters right the way through. But captains? Definitely not, because captains are different.”

The Sheffield United manager discussed leadership, responsibility and what makes a successful skipper during a conversation with The Star earlier this week. Ostensibly designed to preview tomorrow’s game against Stoke City - which marks his side’s return to action following the international break - it also represented an opportunity to talk about John Egan being handed the honour of captaining the Republic of Ireland during their recent World Cup qualifier with Azerbaijan and why, whenever Billy Sharp doesn’t wear the armband for United, Jokanovic likes the centre-half to deputise. The duo, he explained, have demonstrated the ability to not only set an example on the pitch but off it too. Intriguingly, revealing he doesn’t like his players to slavishly follow a script, Jokanovic has detected Sharp and Egan also possess another important quality.

“The captain must also be the guy who can take a decision without a plan,” Jokanovic continued, putting paid to the myth he is a tactical disciplinarian. “The captain is someone who knows, if something needs changing immediately, what to do and how it should be done. The captain must be the guy who has a clear game plan, clear information and the experience to understand what needs to be done. Even if it is knowing that our mood and character needs lifting. The captain reads that and can do it.”

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A former Yugoslavia international and midfielder for clubs including Partizan Belgrade and Chelsea, Jokanovic played alongside some huge personalities before beginning his coaching career in the Serbian capital. Marcel Desailly was the 53-year-old’s captain at Stamford Bridge while the Montenegrin Predrag Mijatovic, a Champions League winner with Real Madrid, scored 49 goals during Jokanovic’s stay with Partizan.

Sharp and Egan are both expected to feature when fourth placed City visit South Yorkshire, as United seek to arrest a run of two straight defeats. Although they were well-beaten at Middlesbrough earlier this month - a result which ended their five match unbeaten run in the competition - Jokanovic blamed their loss to leaders AFC Bournemouth on poor refereeing decisions. Having taken the lead through Morgan Gibbs-White, United were pegged back following a mistakenly awarded penalty before Philip Billing scored the winner, despite Jokanovic’s claims that an offside flag should have been raised. The 2-1 scoreline, which saw Bournemouth finish the latest round of fixtures in first, left United 14th - six points behind the top six with 35 matches remaining.

“You can never give up (as captain),” Jokanovic said. “He is the guy who can support the team. He has a big function on the pitch and away from it. Sometimes a guy can be a captain on the pitch or in the dressing room. But they, captains, have to be captains on it and away from it. The guy with the armband, that is a big responsibility.”

Slavisa Jokanovic with his assistant Chema Sanz: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
John Egan captained the Republic of Ireland during the international break: Simon Bellis / Sportimage