Sheffield United: Slavisa Jokanovic's brutally honest admission about his choice of coaching staff

He seemed puzzled that the question had even arisen in the first place.

Wednesday, 14th July 2021, 4:45 pm

After all, if they weren’t experts in their respective disciplines, Chema Sanz, Rafael Cristobal and Marco Cesarini would never have received invitations to join Sheffield United

But after repeating it back just to check nothing had been lost in cyberspace, Slavisa Jokanovic stared into the camera of his club issue laptop and delivered an answer which provided an intriguing insight into the quartet’s relationship.

“Whenever I organise my staff, whenever I have to bring people in, I always try and see if they are better coaches than me,” the United manager said as he explained the selection process. “If I believe they can make me better, help me prepare a team better, then I want them around me.

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“This is not a favour. This is because they make me a better coach and support the team which in turn helps me as well.

“I don’t have a big ego. If anyone thinks differently then they are wrong. If people can come in and open my eyes to new ways and new things then I want to work with them. It really is simple.”

Sitting in the lobby of their hotel in Estepona during last week’s Spanish training camp, Jokanovic had just finished introducing Sanz, Cristobal and Cesarini to United’s playing staff when he discussed the reasons behind their appointment with The Star.

Sanz, who resigned his position as Valencia’s technical director in order to move to Bramall Lane, will serve as the Serb’s right-hand man having previously managed him at Tenerife. Cristobal and Cesarini, heads of performance and medical services respectively, are also former colleagues after first meeting him at Fulham where they pooled their knowledge and resources to create one of the most attractive footballing sides the Championship has ever seen. Winning promotion to the top-flight, the Londoners were just as effective as they were pleasing on the eye. Relegated from the Premier League last season, three months before Jokanovic officially took charge, United are hoping he can achieve something similar in South Yorkshire.

Slavisa Jokanovic

If that happens, the 52-year-old is adamant the credit should be shared. Because, the way Jokanovic sees it, Sanz, Cristobal and Cesarini work alongside, not for, him.

“I chose these guys because I have worked with them all in the past and I know their personalities,” he said. “I’ve known all of them a lot of years and we do well together, I believe. I know what they bring and I know they make me better because of how they go about things.”

“When I’m working with a team, I always try to change the experience without changing the actual principles of what we do,” Jokanovic continued. “You do that with personality and knowledge. They bring both. You do that with good organisation and hard work. Again, they bring both.

“We all have different responsibilities - different aspects we are looking at in order to try and make a better job overall.”

Like his predecessor Chris Wilder, who led United from the third to the first tier of the English game, Jokanovic has handed a key position to someone whose command he used to be under. Sanz, who also held a key development role at the Mestalla Stadium before joining its strategic department, oversaw much of his time on the Canary Islands. The two have remained in close contact ever since with Sanz, speaking to a Spanish radio station before travelling to England, confirming Jokanovic had first raised the possibility of resurrecting their partnership midway through last term - while he was still employed by Al-Gharafa of Qatar.

“I really want to know the Championship, or the Premier League if things go well for us,” Sanz said. “He has insisted a lot and called me already. I was happy at Valencia but I started to think about it and realised this was the moment.”

Sanz’s understanding of the overseas transfer market could prove invaluable for United moving forward. Particularly if Jokanovic replicates his achievements at Craven Cottage and Watford by leading them back into the PL.

Although Jokanovic will always enjoy the casting vote, which became evident during United’s twice daily sessions on the Costa del Sol, Sanz has been encouraged to put forward ideas and voice an opinion during behind the scenes meetings. The same goes for Cristobal, previously Jokanovic’s fitness guru in west London, and Cesarini. The latter, an Italian national, was also on the payroll at Vicarage Road when Jokanovic moved to Hertfordshire following spells with Levski Sofia, Hercules and Partizan Belgrade.

With Jokanovic known to favour a high-pressing game, which revolves around the need to retrieve possession quickly whenever it is lost, Cristobal and Cesarini both have crucial roles to play. It speaks volumes that Jokanovic insisted upon their presence before agreeing to fill the position Wilder vacated in March.

“I know their personalities and I know they open my eyes to new things, which is definitely what I want,” Jokanovic said, outlining how he plans to create an environment where fresh ideas and innovative thinking can flourish. “You must have an open mind in football, and be ready to accept that some people know things better than you.

“We are all a team, everyone here, and we all bring different aspects with us. Be that on the pitch, by the side or elsewhere. Everyone is a part of that whole.”