Sheffield United boss Slavisa Jokanovic expresses his respect for the work of one long-standing staff member

Slavisa Jokanovic has signalled he is prepared to work closely with Paul Mitchell, Sheffield United’s long-serving head of recruitment, after praising the “excellent” work performed by his new club’s talent-spotters.

By James Shield
Wednesday, 14th July 2021, 4:18 pm

Jokanovic delivered his assessment of Bramall Lane’s scouting department having admitted it is “important” those tasked with delivering the targets Mitchell and his colleagues have identified begin making progress in the transfer market.

Although his words were not designed to be critical - a number of factors, including the Covid-19 pandemic and recent European Championships, have had a debilitating effect on the market - Jokanovic has privately stressed that any delays could undermine United’s attempts to start the new season strongly. Relegated from the Premier League last season, they return to competitive action with a home game against Birmingham City next month.

Confirming that defence and midfield are United’s two priority areas, Jokanovic said: “We are on the way and we are looking forward (to bringing people in). The club knows we need to do that. In fact, they told me we need to do it - to refresh things a little bit.

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“There has been some excellent work done by the club and I came with some ideas also of course. But the club has been doing some very good things in the meantime.”

Despite claims he wanted to start afresh with a completely new set of backroom staff, Jokanovic has reassured many of those who worked alongside his predecessor Chris Wilder that their positions will remain unaffected. One of those, Mitchell, was appointed at Wilder’s behest in 2016 - 12 months before United won the first of their two promotions under the 53-year-old.

Although Jokanovic insisted upon bringing three of his closest confidants to South Yorkshire before agreeing to succeed Wilder in May, he also informed United’s board of directors that he was impressed by the contributions Mitchell and others had made to the team’s success until last term’s implosion. The two men shared a number of chats about potential acquisitions during United’s recent training camp in Spain.

Paul Heckingbottom, who served as caretaker following Wilder’s departure in March, is also understood to have made a positive impression on the Serb.

Slavisa Jokanovic the new manager of Sheffield Utd during his press afternoon at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. Picture date: 2nd July 2021. Picture credit should read: Darren Staples / Sportimage

Jokanovic’s willingness to draw heavily upon Mitchell’s advice also indicates he is ready to adopt a more consensual approach towards recruitment than Wilder. Despite not being the only cause of friction, his relationship with United owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is known to have become strained following a series of disagreements about possible purchases during the last two transfer windows.

Jan van Winckel, Prince Abdullah’s closest footballing advisor and a key figure in the United World project, will also continue to have an input into scouting and player identification after emerging as the driving force behind Sander Berge’s arrival in South Yorkshire a season-and-a-half ago.

But sources at United have stressed that Jokanovic will retain the final say on all in-coming deals.

“There’s been some brilliant work done and it will be good to keep building on that and using that to make us better,” Jokanovic said.