Sheffield United expected to replace Slavisa Jokanovic with Paul Heckingbottom after disappointing start to Championship season

FRUSTRATIONS: Slavisa Jokanovic has been unable to coax consistency out of Sheffield UnitedFRUSTRATIONS: Slavisa Jokanovic has been unable to coax consistency out of Sheffield United
FRUSTRATIONS: Slavisa Jokanovic has been unable to coax consistency out of Sheffield United
Slavisa Jokanovic's time as Sheffield United manager is expected to come to an end after just 22 matches.

There are so-far unconfirmed rumours the former Fulham and Watford manager has been sacked after a poor start to the season but his frustration with the way the club has been run has been evident almost from the start.

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Sheffield United: Recruitment issues that have forced Slavisa Jokanovic and Blad...

There are reports that under-23s manager Paul Heckingbottom will be handed the job for the second time this year, this time on a permanent basis.

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Jokanovic took over as Blades manager after an 11-match caretaker spell from Heckingbottom which was unable to avoid a seemingly inevitable Premier League relegation.

Whereas Fulham and West Bromwich Albion have established themselves as strong promotion contenders, the Blades sit 16th in the table having lost as many league matches - eight - under the Serbian as they lost.

During his brief tenure, they have never won back-to-back matches.

Many of the problems Jokanovic has been unable to address are deep-rooted. There has been a clear hangover from relegation which the Blades have been unable to shift as Fulham and West Brom have, despite all three changing managers in the summer. All three have large parachute payments behind them whose importance has been magnified by the financial constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic, but only two have been able to make them count.

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Sheffield United were able to keep the vast majority of last season's squad together - their only sale being that of Aaron Ramsdale to Arsenal - but that has perhaps been part of the problem. The squad needed an infusion of new blood and fresh mindsets, and did not really get it.

A number of long-standing members of the squad, such as Billy Sharp and Chris Basham, are in the final years of contracts. The club has the option to extend them by 12 months, but both players said recently they have not heard anything in that regard.

Transfer policy was one of the areas which caused the breakdown of the relationship between Chris Wilder and the board before he left in March.

As the summer transfer window went on, Jokanovic made less and less effort to find his frustrations at the lack of additions to his squad.

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Four players were signed, all on loan. Ben Davies - a player Wilder had been unable to persuade the board to sign 12 months earlier - came from Liverpool in mid-August but the arrivals of Robin Olsen, Morgan Gibbs-White and Conor Hourihane came in the final hours of business.

Jokanovic failed in numerous attempts to sign wingers on deadline day, and also targeted a defensive midfielder.

He made it known that if he failed to get the player he wanted, 35-year-old free agent Adlene Guedioura was training with the team as a standby option. The former Middlesbrough midfielder duly signed in September but has played just 25 minutes of Championship football, plus a League Cup outing.

A new contract for academy youngster Iliman Ndiaye in September was a more positive development.

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Attacking midfielder Gibbs-White has made a positive impact since joining from Wolverhampton Wanderers, scoring four goals in 13 appearances.

Former Barnsley midfielder Hourihane has started just three league matches, and whilst Olsen has established himself as the No 1 goalkeeper, he has been unconving. He missed what look like being Jokanovic's final two matches in charge through injury.

Jokanovic was warned when he took the job Ramsdale and Sander Berge were likely to be sold in the summer, but the Blades could not find a buyer for the Norwegian midfielder. He has played just once - he scored, at home to Preston North End - since the transfer window shut, and has only started six matches in an injury-hit 2021.

Only last week, Jokanovic revealed he had been given no guarantees he would be able to make the three signings - two wingers and a holding midfielder - he wanted in January.

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Jokanovic was brought to Bramall Lane because of his track record in taking Fulham and Watford into the Premier League.

He imposed a more patient style of play on the team but they were constantly undermined by lapses of concentration defensively. He never settled on a preferred formation, bemused from The start by all the talk of shapes.

Pre-season was disrupted by a Covid-19 outbreak which saw the whole squad go into isolation after returning from their opening pre-season friendly, against Gibraltan National League side Europa Point.

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Their only other warm-up game was a comfortable 4-0 win over League One Doncaster Rovers. A planned friendly at Norwich City had to be scrapped because of a Covid outbreak there.

The immediate post-transfer window form offered hope things were coming together, but flashes of promise were never followed up consistently.

Former Barnsley, Leeds United and Hibernian manager Heckingbottom joined the Blades at the start of last season as under-23 manager, stepping up as first-team caretaker when Wilder left in March. By then it was already clear the Blades were going to be relegated.

Heckingbottom won three of his 11 games in charge, losing the rest, and blooded some of the club's youngsters, including Ndiaye - whose only Premier League outing came in the Yorkshireman's first game in charge - and Daniel Jebbison, who became the youngest player to score on his Premier League debut in the win at Everton, but has since been loaned out.

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At the time Heckingbottom spoke of his desire to return to first-team management when the right opportunity came along and with the Blades' hierarchy looking to run the club on more continental and parsimonious lines, he seems qualified as the sort of coach they are looking for.

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