No professional footballer, not even when they’re having a kick-about after training, ever wants to lose.
But tomorrow’s friendly against Europa Point of Gibraltar is about more than just winning for Sheffield United’s players. Their first outing under new manager Slavisa Jokanovic it is a chance for those handed early opportunities to impress the Serb that they can grasp the tactics, systems and strategies he wants to employ. Particularly, with several senior players granted permission not to travel, if they are among the academy prospects invited along for the ride.
The highlight of their week-long stay in Spain, the outcome of his evening’s meeting with Andy Pritchard’s side shouldn’t be in doubt. Harvesting talent discarded by teams in England and Spain, EP have plenty of ability at their disposal but lack the expertise, the nous and the match-craft to trouble a side which was competing at Premier League level only two months ago.
So what Jokanovic is likely to spend hours obsessing over afterwards isn’t the scoreline. Rather, having confirmed he plans to make changes to the way United go about trying to win games, it will be footage of the positions those under his command take up - with and without the ball. Jokanovic, as Oliver Norwood can testify having worked under him at Fulham, is all about the press, quickly winning back possession and then passing the opposition into submission.
“We have to be patient and there are a lot of good things that have been happening here as everybody knows,” he said before boarding the plane south. “There isn’t only one way to play (football) though.
“Football is all about opening your mind, being smart and clever. It’s not about travelling to the moon, or at least it shouldn’t be. But you do have to be tuned in and to use your brain I believe.”
Those words suggest, despite ruling out a radical overhaul of the system which proved so successful under his predecessor Chris Wilder, Jokanovic is planning to adopt a more cerebral approach than the high-octane, high-risk football which had made United the toast of the PL until last term’s implosion.
However, with a Spaniard and an Italian now in charge of their fitness, conditioning and medical well-being, those players summoned to the Mediterranean have discovered it is still built on sweat.
Coaches in both countries are notorious for hosting pretty spartan summer training camps while Jokanovic spent long periods of his own career in Spain.
Although the likes of John Egan, Chris Basham and Ebda Stevens will view the clash with EP as a gentle-leg stretch, it has extra significance for those who spent long periods of the previous campaign on the periphery of the starting eleven. They include Ben Osborn, Jack Robinson and Lys Mousset. Youngsters such as Regan Slater and Kacpar Lopata, a Poland youth international, are also likely to enter the fixture with a little extra edge.
“We will work hard and I treat everyone as adults,” Jokanovic said. “I am not bothered about age, only what they can do on the pitch. For me, the age of someone isn’t important.”