Sheffield United's search for new manager intensfies - one coach in Belgium emerges as strong contender

Sheffield United’s search for a new manager is expected to intensify next week, with former Red Bull Leipzig youth team coach Alexander Blessin emerging as a strong contender for the vacancy created by Chris Wilder’s departure three weeks ago.

Friday, 2nd April 2021, 9:32 am

As The Star revealed on Thursday, United’s owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Jan van Winkel, his de facto director of football, are exploring several lines of enquiry in Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League as they attempt to draw-up a short list of names capable of leading the club next season.

Marc Brys, currently in charge of OH Leuven, is considered a potential candidate after previously working for United’s sister club Beerschot. But Blessin, who has impressed since taking charge of KV Oostende last year, is understood to have impressed Prince Abdullah and van Winckel with his work at the Diaz Arena this term.

Exploratory talks between the 47-year-old German’s representatives and agents acting on behalf of United are thought to have already taken place, with another round of discussions scheduled for later this month.

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Oostende's head coach Alexander Blessin is understood to be in the frame to take over as Sheffield United boss (Photo by KRISTOF VAN ACCOM/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Speaking during an interview with a Premier League rights-holder ahead of today’s derby against Leeds, Prince Abdullah confirmed he wants United to adopt more of a global and consensual approach towards recruitment than they one pursued during Wilder’s hugely successful reign, which saw them climb from the third to the first tier of English football in only three seasons. However, after finishing ninth in the table last season, a combination of injuries and poor results gnawed away at the cracks in Wilder’s relationship with United’s board of directors.

He departed with United languishing at the bottom of the table, with caretaker Paul Heckingbottom’s side entering tomorrow’s derby against Leeds 14 points adrift of safety with only nine matches remaining.

Blessin, who represented VfB Stuttgart, Hoffenheim and Lokomotiv Leipzig as a player, has led Ostende to fourth in the JPL after being appointed in September.

But it is his willingness to work with young players, and those from overseas, which have brought him to the attention of Prince Abdullah and van Winckel. Osstende’s squad is composed of players from 11 different countries, including Scotland and Northern Ireland, with Bramall Lane’s hierarchy keen to begin making more use of the United World project they embarked upon after Prince Abdullah won his High Court battle with long-standing director and former co-owner Kevin McCabe in 2019. Beerschot, Brys’ former employers, Kerala United, Chateauroux, Al-Hilal United and United themselves all fall under the UW banner.

H.R.H Prince Abdullah bin Mosa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Although United are expected to progress their interest in Blessin shortly, Slavisa Jokanovic is still known to be keen on discussing the possibility of replacing Wilder. Having gained promotion from the Championship with both Watford and Fulham before joining Al-Gharafa, the Serb has yet to be approached about the position even though his contract in Qatar expires next month.

Heckingbottom, a former Leeds managerm is scheduled to remain in post until the end of the season. Jason Tindall, who worked at AFC Bournemouth before arriving in Southy Yorkshire, was drafted onto his coaching staff following Wilder’s exit.

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Slavisa Jokanovic: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Chris Wilder: Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
Paul Heckingbottom and Jason Tindall: David Klein/Sportimage