Six Sheffield United players who could enjoy a new lease of life under Slavisa Jokanovic at Bramall Lane
With Slavisa Jokanović’s Sheffield United tenure to get officially underway next week, when his contract in Qatar runs out, there is much, understandable, excitement from Blades fans about the Serb’s plans in the transfer market this summer.
Tom Cairney, his former colleague at Fulham, had been mooted as a possible signing before news of his fee emerged, while Ryan Sessegnon and Harvey Elliott, who also shone under Jokanović’s tutelage as youngsters, have also been mentioned.
But Jokanović’s appointment could also help breathe a new lease of life into a number of players already on the Bramall Lane books. The new manager, as The Star revealed recently, already believes he is inheriting a better squad at United than he walked into at Fulham or Watford.
So, we had a look at which members of it could most benefit from the Serb’s leadership…
A marauding full-back who was instrumental in United’s promotion to the Premier League, Stevens took to the Premier League as if he had played there all his life and, at one stage in that first season, had his own highlights reel of hapless right-backs he had nutmegged as United launched an amazing bid for Europe.
It didn’t materialise like that, of course, and Stevens seemed to be one of a number of players that could not replicate the heights when football eventually returned after the Covid-19 suspension.
A spate of niggling injuries limited his involvement at times last season as United were relegated, and he missed the Republic of Ireland’s games this summer with a pelvic issue.
In mitigation, the loss of Jack O’Connell for the whole of last season, and John Fleck for parts of it, decimated United’s left-hand side and it’s perhaps no surprise that Stevens lost a bit of form as a result.
But he now has a remarkable amount of competition for his place – with Rhys Norrington-Davies, Max Lowe and Ben Osborn all under contract, while Jack Robinson and Kean Bryan could also play at left-back – and will be looking to hit the ground running in pre-season ahead of a hopefully injury-free campaign.
The numbers tell their own story - £23.5m fee, 30 games, no goals. Considering his status as United’s most expensive ever player, last season was disastrous for both player and club and United could be forgiven for expecting much more from the former Liverpool youngster next season.
Fortunately, the signs look good. On his first, and only, experience of Championship football, he scored a goal every other game for Swansea City and fired them into the play-offs.
Together with Oli McBurnie, another former Swan who didn’t have a good time of things in front of goal last season, he will surely be relishing a slightly easier ride in the Championship – with no disrespect intended to United’s second-tier rivals.
Restoring Brewster’s surely-brittle confidence and getting him back to the striker he was for Swansea will surely be close to the top of Jokanović’s in-tray.
A curious case. Consistently one of the Championship’s most impressive attacking performers for QPR, there is an apparent clamour in some sections of United’s fanbase to jettison Freeman as they prepare to enter that very same division.
United, as it is, are short of midfield options and with Sander Berge still expected to follow John Lundstram out of the Bramall Lane exit door, Freeman’s return from his loan spell at Nottingham Forest could prove very timely indeed for both player and club.
Freeman showed glimpses of his ability in the Premier League but found it difficult to dislodge John Fleck before joining Forest after expressing his desire to play more football. That move didn’t work out, although a botched operation didn’t help, and Forest didn’t exercise their option to make the move a permanent one.
So Freeman will have a fresh chance to stake his claim in pre-season, especially if Jokanović deploys an attacking midfielder when his Blades revolution begins.
Another player with a lot to prove, but for different reasons. The Welsh international rejected a loan move to Beerschot recently because he is intent on pushing his claim for a first-team place at Bramall Lane – a path which may remain clear the longer Jack O’Connell is sidelined with his knee injury.
Chris Wilder, Jokanović’s predecessor, and his coaching staff identified Norrington-Davies as O’Connell’s long-term successor before dispatching him on loan to Luton Town last summer.
Currently with Wales at the Euros, Norrington-Davies will want to make a home for himself at Bramall Lane and Stevens may have a real challenge on his hands for arguably the first time since he arrived in South Yorkshire.
A man who has already been highlighted by Jokanović as a key player, going back to their time working together at Fulham, Norwood is another proven performer at Championship level with three promotions under his belt already.
On his day, Norwood is the conductor of United’s midfield but was far from alone last season in struggling as United became bogged down by results. With a fresh lease of life, under a manager who trusts and values him, don’t be at all surprised to see Norwood re-emerge as the player who transformed United’s fortunes soon after arriving early on in their promotion season.
United’s young striking star announced himself to the world in breathtaking fashion last season, scoring on his full Premier League debut at Everton to earn all three points at Goodison Park.
The teenager showed enough in his end-of-season appearances to earn a new deal at Bramall Lane and next season may be a seminal one for him – either staying in South Yorkshire and developing further, or going out on loan to further his development.