Sheffield United: 'We will be trying to cut each other's heads off' admits Slavisa Jokanovic ahead of clash with Reading

Sheffield United manager Slavisa Jokanovic has joked both he and Veljko Paunovic will be trying to ‘cut each other’s heads off’ during tomorrow’s match at the Select Car Leasing Stadium, despite describing the Reading manager’s late father as one of the biggest influences on his career.

Monday, 22nd November 2021, 6:10 pm
Slavisa Jokanovic coached Partizan Belgrade before taking charge of Sheffield United: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Jokanovic worked under Blagoje at Partizan Belgrade, where the former defender helped him progress through the club’s system before winning the Yugoslavian League title.

Despite revealing his respect for Veljko, a member of the Partizan squad he coached himself after retiring as a player, Jokanovic told The Star: “I know the family very well. But this is not a romantic situation. I will be trying to cut his head off and he will be trying to cut my head off during the game too.

“This will not be a strange situation for me or him. We have some collaboration in the past but he will be doing everything to win and I will be doing everything to win. After the match, we wish each other well. But not before it.”

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Veljko Paunovic, manager of Reading, worked under Slavisa Jokanovic at Partian Belgrade: Alex Burstow/Getty Images

Blagoje is a legendary figure in the Serbian capital, having enrolled on their development programme as a nine-year-old before going on to make over 300 senior appearances. Listening to Jokanovic speak at the Randox Health Academy earlier this afternoon, where he talked passionately about “defending our club’s crest”, it was possible to detect how Blagoje’s teachings still influence him today.

“His father, he was an amazing man,” Jokanovic continued, shedding further light on his relationship with Paunovic ahead of United’s visit to Berkshire. “He was a really good coach and one of the best players ever in the history of Partizan. I have a long collaboration with him, probably more than Veljko.”

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“I always remember where he (Blagoje) had a saying that ‘he is a good man if he supports Partizan’ but that it was not possible to be a good man if you don’t support Partizan.

Sheffield United manager Slavisa Jokanovic, previously of Partizan Belgrade, takes his team to Reading in the Championship next: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“That showed you his attitude. He was a hard worker and he defended the colours of his team. He would fight for them. This is my memory of him. He was always positive too.”

Jokanovic’s own name is also woven into the fabric of Partizan, taking charge of the side following his retirement as a player and leading them to back to back league and cup doubles at the beginning of his managerial career. Veljko, whose Reading side are 20th in the Championship following a points deduction, was coached by Jokanovic before eventually entering the technical area himself; leading Serbia to success in the 2015 FIFA under-20 World Cup before joining MLS franchise Chicago Fire.

Jokanovic, who saw United climb to 17th following Saturday’s draw with Coventry City, said: “I know him (Veljko) very well. He was with me at Partizan, his father coached me and I coached him.

“He, Veljko, is one of the most talented coaches from our part of the world.”

“We have respect and friendship but that does not matter at this moment,” Jokanovic, a promotion winner with both Watford and Fulham, said. “This is normal for people in our situation.”