Sheffield United: The unscheduled meeting that highlighted the respect between Slavisa Jokanovic and Middlesbrough's Neil Warnock
Nearly two months ago, as English football was preparing for its return to action following the European Championships, visitors to an awards ceremony on the outskirts of Sheffield might have spotted a pair of familiar faces deep in conversation outside the hotel where it was being staged.
They were animated, jovial and clearly delighted to meet one another - sharing a warm embrace on the tarmac before the conversation flowed. Slavisa Jokanovic and Neil Warmock might be very different people. But the respect between them was evident to everyone who witnessed their unscheduled catch-up before The Star’s pre-season bash.
“Neil is one of my favourite coaches in England,” Jokanovic said, as his Sheffield United side prepare to face Warnock’s Middlesbrough on Teesside tomorrow night. “I like to have a chat and drink some beer with him always after the game. I will have a conversation with him. I know him and he knows me too. I don’t change my style and he doesn’t change his.”
Warnock, aged 72, is now entering his fifth decade in management and leading his 16th different club after taking charge at the Riverside in June 2020. Promoted eight times, the most memorable of those was achieved 14 years earlier when United, the team he had grown-up supporting as a child, reached the top-flight.
“I like his personality and I enjoy being in his company,” continued Jokanovic, the man now tasked with trying to take them back. “He has a certain reputation in England but, for me, it is always a great experience being with this guy.”
Appointed during the aftermath of United’s relegation from the Premier League last season, Jokanovic’s approach to the game is markedly different to the ones employed by both Warnock and his immediate predecessor Chris Wilder, who also delivered promotion from the second tier.
Predicting Middlesbrough will look to provoke a series of ‘one on one’ battles in an effort to end United’s five match unbeaten run in the Championship, Jokanovic said: “I respect his (Warnock’s) approach to football too. This is his choice and believes this is his way to play football. What he considered is the best choice for his team.
“Everything is legal. He was successful with this. He plays a completely different way but I respect all of the decisions people make.”
“I respect him personally too,” Jokanovic added. “I am satisfied when I have an opportunity after the game to meet him.”
A promotion specialist himself after leading Watford and Fulham out of the Championship before succeeding Wilder, Jokanovic has overseen a dramatic upturn in United’s fortunes since the international break. Despite failing to win any of his first five league fixtures at the helm in South Yorkshire, Saturday’s win over Derby County was United’s third in four outings.
Admitting Jayden Bogle was unfortunate to be excluded from the squad which beat Wayne Rooney’s side, Jokanovic could make changes for the trip to the North-East. But David McGoldrick and Lys Mousset will be given more time to recover from the injuries which forced them to sit out that match. Sander Berge, who Jokanovic had hoped would be available for selection, is now not scheduled to resume training until Thursday as he recovers from a problem sustained during the warm-up before the recent victory at Hull City.