Sheffield United: Slavisa Jokanovic reveals how he stays sane in the crazy world of modern football management
People will say it goes with the territory and, to some extent, it does.
But the rumours, speculation and seemingly never-ending stream of ‘advice’ from people who aren’t qualified to offer it in the first place probably still grates. Even when it’s born-out of a desire to see them succeed and deliver results.
As he attempts to transform Sheffield United’s fortunes following a difficult start to the season, Slavisa Jokanovic has provided an insight into how managers cope with some of the more irritating and often downright annoying aspects of their profession. Remaining focused can be difficult when everyone around you is losing their heads. But, according to the Serb, the trick to staying sane in a business where madness often reigns revolves around mastering the art of selective deafness.
“This game is the story of sacked coaches,” he told The Star, reflecting on a month which has seen several of his close friends and colleagues lose their jobs. “I don’t have the time to be thinking about this. I don’t think about this ever, because I don’t believe you can.
“The only thing I ever concentrate on is managing my team, and what we can do to try and make the team better. If it is not under my control, then why should I worry about that? I don’t, because it isn’t.
“We are not small time in my job. We are not worried about this situation.
“What I do worry about is my team, my club and my group. I believe I can grow up with this club and these players. Other things? No, I don’t worry about those.”
Although there is no suggestion that Jokanovic is under pressure after less than five months in post, the former Yugoslavia midfielder and two time promotion winner was referring to events elsewhere in football during the international break. Dean Smith has been axed by Aston Villa, seemingly for committing the heinous crime of not being able to maintain last season’s progress following the sale of his best player. Daniel Farke and United legend Neil Warnock, replaced by Jokanovic’s immediate predecessor Chris Wilder, were also cut loose by Norwich City and Middlesbrough with the latter complaining “They’ll get someone in now and give him the players I should have had six months ago” after learning he was being relieved of his duties following a leak to a newspaper.
The fate of this trio provides an important lesson about football for those still working within the sport. Managers now have to be as skilled at influencing perceptions and expectations as they do the outcome of matches. Being seen as fashionable and relevant, particularly in an era where any slump in form provokes talk of a crisis, is just as important as tactical acumen. Unless you can carry people with you, persuade them your ideas and methods are a la mode, then it doesn’t really matter how effective they are. Because, with defeat being an inevitable part of the game, the opportunity to demonstrate as much simply won’t materialise.
“If you ask me about my profession, outside of my direct responsibilities when we are talking between us, sometimes we don’t know how we can lose,” continued Jokanovic, reminding that fixtures are contested between fallible human-beings, not pre-programmed robots. “You must sometimes find luck in a football game, as you must in life.
“Sometimes you think ‘How can we miss those chances?’ You know it is strange. But that is when we are talking like supporters. From a professional side, we must try and find the solutions. That is what we must all concentrate on.”
United are preparing for next weekend’s meeting with Coventry City 18th in the Championship table, after being beaten by Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. Their display at Ewood Park, which exposed the flaws within a squad which still contains too many veterans of last term’s relegation from the Premier League, came on the back of a home loss to Blackpool and then a draw at Nottingham Forest.
“Some of the things that happen, especially at Bramall Lane, it can be complicated to explain,” said Jokanovic, resisting the temptation to begin a complex discussion about psychology and tactics. “Others, for example when we couldn’t find the 15 seconds (to make a substitution at Forest), they are just really frustrating. Sometimes, these things can damage you but you must stay focused and calm and have that desire to improve - which we will and do.”
During a recent investigation into the pressures of management, a number of Jokanovic’s contemporaries claimed social media has had a detrimental effect upon their working conditions. One reported how family and friends are now subjected to criticism following a disappointing result, while another suggested the narratives being peddled on its myriad platforms can sway opinion in the boardroom.
But governing a club depending on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram trends is a recipe for chaos, confusion and disaster. It is also a sign of weakness on behalf of directors, who are effectively acknowledging they lack the necessary wisdom to make the right appointments and develop a coherent strategic vision. And echo chambers are rarely an accurate reflection of public opinion anyway.
“In order to do this job, it is important not to become distracted,” Jokanovic said. “You must always listen and be ready to learn, because that is how you improve. But you must also not be scared of football. You must embrace it. Because it is a wonderful job and that is why we are involved - because we love it. Always remember that.”