What Sheffield United can expect from new boss Slavisa Jokanovic - and how he works behind the scenes
Three years ago, when Neil Warnock described Fulham as “The Manchester City of the Championship”, the former Sheffield United manager wasn’t making a snide comment about their supposed largesse in the transfer market.
Instead he was referring to a playing style which was as easy on the eye as it was effective, with the Londoners leading the division in terms of possession, passing accuracy and pass completion en route to promotion.
The architect of that side, Slavisa Jokanovic now occupies Warnock’s old hotseat having agreed to take charge of United earlier today. So what can their players expect as the Serb attempts to replicate that achievement in South Yorkshire? How will he introduce and then school them in the methods which also delivered Premier League football to Watford three seasons earlier?
The answer is drills, drills and more drills. Then, when those have been completed to his satisfaction, another round of sessions on the training ground.
“Everything is about winning the ball back,” midfielder Kevin McDonald, also once of United, explained before Fulham’s 2018 play-off final victory over Aston Villa. “Press after loss. Press after loss. Press all the time.”
“We know we have to earn the right to play, and the manager drills that into us every single day,” McDonald continued. “We will try and win the ball back as soon as we lose it, and then keep the ball and try to create chances. Make them (Villa) run around, maybe tire them out.”
Like McDonald, who was scheduled to undergo a kidney transplant earlier this week. Oliver Norwood will be able to provide United’s squad with an insight into how Jokanovic works having also featured in the team which triumphed at Wembley Stadium.
Then on loan at Craven Cottage, Norwood was introduced during the closing stages of that contest as Fulham sought to protect the lead Tom Cairney had given them midway through the first half. But he made 36 appearances across the course of the entire campaign, 22 of which were starts.
Although the end product is aesthetically pleasing, Jokanovic’s work in between fixtures focuses predominantly on what to do when the opposition has possession. Predictably, for someone who has worked in seven different countries following his recent spell with Qatari outfit Al-Gharafa, within a variety of different systems. At Vicarage Road, he famously hooked one player and changed Watford’s shape before the 25 minute mark of a game against Brighton and Hove Albion. The Hertfordshire club went on to win 2-0 and seal promotion.
“He will look for players who are ready to learn and then work with them, to build a system which works to their strengths,” the late Radomir Antic once said of his friend and compatriot.
That flexibility and pragmatism will have proved attractive to United who, as they attempt to recover from being relegated from the PL last term, are keen to avoid an expensive and potentially disruptive makeover of their playing staff.
As well as being a student of the game, Jokanovic is also a disciplinarian; albeit one who governs by respect rather than fear.
“I wouldn’t say he’s scary,” McDonald confessed. “But I wouldn’t cross him. What he does is put confidence in you.”