Slavisa Jokanovic: Sheffield United departure raises more questions about Blades' long-term strategy and plan - Danny Hall

With news this morning that Slavisa Jokanović’s short reign at the club is set to come to an end, the questions of strategies, plans and direction of Sheffield United have once again reared their ugly heads.

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 1:54 pm

The Blades board deserved, and rightly received, a lot of praise for landing the Serb in the summer to replace Chris Wilder. A man with a proven reputation of landing promotion from this division, and one who didn’t come cheap.

His appointment surprised many – not least because his name didn’t feature on a five-name shortlist that United drew up, and then announced the existence of, to replace Wilder.

Not many could say his tenure so far was a roaring success; 16th in the Championship with six wins and eight defeats from 19 league games.

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But Jokanović remained confident that United could still mount a challenge for promotion this season, not least after a change of shape – albeit long overdue – at least looked to have solidified his side at the back.

United, a club who have arrived at more crossroads in recent times than Sandy Richardson, are now at another. Where do they go from here?

Immediately turning to Paul Heckingbottom is the logical choice. He knows the players, having been handed the reigns on a temporary basis last season following the departure of Wilder, and although three wins from 10 league games in charge won’t threaten the win ratios of the club’s greatest managers, the damage was long done before he assumed temporary control.

Slavisa Jokanovic's time as manager of Sheffield United is drawing to a close (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Heckingbottom, whose name did feature on that five-man shortlist before Jokanović arrived, now has a chance to impress and become his successor. But questions remain.

What happens in January? The window opens in 37 days and fresh impetus into this squad is very much needed. Will the interim manager be allowed to bring in players? Will incomings be decided elsewhere? Will United spend at all or, for the second January in succession, shut up shop?

More long-term, what direction will United take now? In Jokanović, they hired the overwhelming, obvious and expensive choice, and he didn’t sign a single permanent player for money in the last window. Working with essentially another manager’s squad - without any of the wingers he craved, with his star midfielder sidelined and after his goalkeeper was sold after two games of the season – can anyone look back on his tenure and honestly say he was given the tools to succeed at Bramall Lane?

Will they now go down a different route? Heckingbottom, as United’s U23 coach, would be a worthy candidate if the plan was to reprofile the squad by blooding a number of the club’s youngsters.

But that strategy is more long-term, and doesn’t go hand-in-hand with a serious promotion charge. With the financial noose tightening around United’s necks with every day they spend outside the Premier League, can they afford to write off a season or two of transition while United’s young buds flourish?

If not, then a proven promotion winner could be the answer. Aside from the one that has just gone through the door, and the one that has recently joined Middlesbrough, how many are floating around? Daniel Farke did a sterling job getting Norwich promoted in what seems like every season for the last 25 years, but they haven’t managed to sustain it in the Premier League after giving the manager a relative pittance to spend.

He would also presumably want guarantees, usually around either a squad capable of challenging for promotion or a few quid to spend in the market to get it to that point. Can United realistically offer either? Or, more crucially, deliver when push comes to shove?

Even away from matters on the field, what is the plan to upgrade United’s facilities? How has Premier League cash helped develop Bramall Lane? Or the Shirecliffe training ground?

What is the legacy of two years dining at the top table of English football? Where is the new training building promised by the start of 2021, but since delayed by Covid-19? Are there plans to upgrade United’s facilities and become a category one academy?

As The Star revealed today, Alex Neil has admirers on United’s board and is out of work after leaving Preston back in March. My twopenneth worth would be a strong look at Paul Warne, a man doing an admirable job just over the border at Rotherham United and who has proved he can work with a small-ish squad and a relative budget.

But, aside from a safe pair of hands in Heckingbottom for the interim, there seems to be no obvious answers for the Blades – but an awful lot of questions remain.