Sheffield United's managerial shortlist begins to take shape

Sheffield United have still yet to make contact with either Slavisa Jokanovic or his representatives in England and Serbia despite performing due diligence on the former Chelsea midfielder around the turn of the year, which suggests he does not yet feature on the shortlist of candidates vying to replace Chris Wilder.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 6:00 am

A two time promotion winner from the Championship with Watford and Fulham, Jokanovic appears tailor made for the vacancy which has existed at Bramall Lane since Wilder’s departure in March, and would be first choice among many supporters to take charge.

However, United’s refusal to establish a line of communication with the 52-year-old following the expiry of his contract with Qatari club Al-Gharafa indicates his name does not feature on the five man shortlist chief executive Steve Bettis recently confirmed the board of directors have compiled.

Although that could change if United’s poor results continue - after their relegation from the Premier League was confirmed nearly three weeks ago, they enter Saturday’s game against Crystal Palace on the back of a 4-0 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur - caretaker Paul Heckingbottom and Alexander Blessin head coach of KV Oostende, are understood to be the two frontrunners.

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Serbian manager Slavisa Jokanovic: LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images

With Blessin being informed he is unlikely to qualify for a work permit following the UK’s exit from the European Union, and subsequently beginning to try and distance himself from the position, Bettis’ decision to confirm Heckingbottom is a contender almost certainly represented an attempt to gauge how his appointment would be greeted by a fan base - many of whom are still upset by Wilder’s exit.

Although neither Jokanovic nor his agents will make the first move - both out of respect for Al-Gharafa and because they know he is unlikely to be short of offers in Europe - members of his inner circle would almost certainly welcome any attempt by United to discuss the possibility of him taking charge.

At least one of owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s associates is understood to have studied Jokanovcic’s methods around Christmas, when it became apparent a series of rows about strategy and recruitment policy meant Wilder’s reign was coming to an end.

But that investigation did not result in an discreet approach being made; one designed to ascertain if Jokanovic planned to stay in the Middle East or his personal and professional demands.

London, England, 2nd May 2021. Paul Heckingbottom interim manager of Sheffield Utd meets Sander Berge of Sheffield Utd during the Premier League match at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London. Picture credit should read: David Klein / Sportimage

Having retired as a player following spells in his native Yugoslavia, Spain and also at Stamford Bridge, Jokanovic began his career on the touchline with FK Partizan before arriving at Vicarage Road via Hercules and Levski Sofia in 1014. He departed 12 months later, after steering Watford back into the top-flight before repeating the feat at Craven Cottage.

Nominated for the Qatar Stars League coach of the year award during his first campaign in Al Rayyan, Jokanovic steered Al-Gharafa towards Asian Champions League qualification last month.

Although his deal is set to officially end this summer, Jokanovic is already thought to be free to discuss alternative offers of employment following reports he wants to be closer to his family.