Experience of Championship tells new Sheffield United manager Salvisa Jokanovic to remain grounded

IMMACULATELY attired in a dark blue suit and looking the part amid splendid sunshine on a Friday evening in South Yorkshire, Sheffield United manager Slavisa Jokanovic’s promotion credentials also measure up.

The Serbian’s record at Championship level precedes him. Promotion with first Watford in 2014-15 and then Fulham in 2017-18 and it does not take a rocket scientist to deduce why he has been brought to the red side of the Steel City footballing divide.

Sides relegated from the Premier League to the second tier tend to do quite well, even accounting for the loss of players in the wake of exiting the big time.

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Last season, Norwich City and one of Jokanovic’s old clubs in Watford made an instant return, while Bournemouth made it to the play-offs.

No promises: New Sheffield United manager Slavisa Jokanovic has played down their promotion favourites tag. Picture: Simon Galloway/PA Wire.

The campaign before in 2019-20, the other side he has formerly managed on these shores in Fulham were promoted just 12 months after demotion.

As night follows day, the talk will be of Fulham, West Brom –under the command of former Barnsley head coach Valerien Ismael – and the Blades being the favourites for promotion.

Jokanovic, for one, is not interested in any such talk of favouritism and with good reason.

Nothing is handed to you on a plate in the Championship, perish the thought.

Keep him: Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale has been linked with a big money move to Arsenal - but Jokanovic wants to keep him. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

Success is an exercise in endurance and there are always bumps in the road.

The Fulham side who he took up in ’17-18 were 15th at the start of December. Reputations can soon get thrashed in the Championship. Glory must be earned.

On whether he is comfortable with United being a promotion favourite, Jokanovic said: “No. I don’t know exactly what people mean. We need to play 46 games. I cannot change nothing.

“Were France not favourites for Euro 2020? We cannot start thinking about this.

Terrace hero: the Blades wanted a strong personality to follow inthe footsteps of Chris Wilder. Picture: James Wilson/Sportimage

“If I believe I am so good because I am favourite, I can take a plane to Ibiza and rest a little bit and come back and prepare the team for the first game.

“But I don’t believe this job works this way. It’s the reason you don’t have guarantees .

“I cannot stop people from talking. I must do working, somebody must do writing, somebody must do talking.

“I know it is natural but I will always try and avoid the answer. I cannot give any guarantees and we must wait for the end of the season.”

Jokanovic’s track record in this country speaks for itself.

But it is disingenuous to suggest he was purely brought in for his promotion achievements alone.

His status as a strong character who knows what he wants, is ultra professional and clearly does not suffer fools gladly was another reason why he was the chosen one.

As chief executive officer Stephen Bettis also astutely pointed out, the permanent successor to Chris Wilder always needed to be a strong and demanding. Jokanovic fits that particular brief.

But behind the perceived iron fist is a velvet glove. Jokanovic is certainly demanding, but is equally conscious of earning the trust of a dressing room which is rich in senior professionals.

He continued: “I believe they must have quality, and I need their trust. When they start to trust in themselves and their team-mates and if I have enough knowledge to show them and can help them and they start trusting myself, you will be going in the right direction.

“In general, it’s the players who are promoted. I never stop any shot, I never defend any attack or score any goal, but when they start to trust, they can do a lot of the things.

“They need to make me successful. I came here because they are here. I don’t expect a lot of changes, but I expect some freshening up.”

The changes that many Unitedites fully expect revolve around the potential departure of key players such as Aaron Ramsdale, Sander Berge and George Baldock.

Arsenal are mulling over putting in a bid for Ramsdale, currently on Euro 2020 duty with England, while club record signing Berge is also a target for the Gunners, with Napoli also keen.

But as it stands, both are reluctant to met United’s £35m asking price for Berge, while Scottish Premier League giants Celtic are admirers of Baldock.

If Jokanovic has his way, then all will be staying put.

He added: “I do not expect players to leave. I don’t have any benefits from this.

“Sander and Aaron are mentioned. These are among the best two players in my squad. If they stay I will be really happy.

“First of all, I am talking about the Norwegian guy (Berge). I have some information about it being some kind of possibility.

“I have not had an opportunity to talk with him, but the first time I speak with him I will encourage him to stay with us.

“The same with Aaron, he is one of the best keepers in England and is in my squad.

“I don’t have any interest in pushing him out.

“I am talking about his quality and his personality is important in the dressing room. I want to stay with him,”

Specifically on the subject of additions to his coaching staff, he commented: “I am really close but don’t want to say.

“My staff are here, they are isolating and on Monday, one guy will be out.

“Tuesday will be another and I am waiting for more. They are here in the city.”

Meanwhile, United are yet to hear back from out-of-contract defender Kean Bryan, who has been offered a new deal by the club.

The 24-year-old – who has been linked with a move to Championship rivals West Brom – is yet to inform the club of his intentions.