Reason for optimism at Sheffield United if they get right man at the top

IT was back on May 12, 2016 – five days after the end of a forgettable and pretty embarrassing season – that Sheffield United made one of the best decisions in the club’s history by appointing Chris Wilder as manager.

Experience: Chris Basham.
Experience: Chris Basham.

Just over five years on from that fateful day, the importance of getting his permanent successor right – and choosing an individual with similar clarity of thought, nous, sound man-management, vision and personality – cannot be downplayed.

After such a stressful and punishing campaign which has now mercifully ended, those Blades players who headed into the night after Sunday’s finale against Burnley require hope and a leader to follow again.

Somebody of the ilk of former Fulham and Watford head coach Slavisa Jokanovic – who has been promoted out of the Championship on two occasions – would surely tick all boxes on offer and go down well with Unitedites.

Would fit the bill: Slavisa Jokanovic.

A time for seniority and not a rookie with no experience in the English game, especially in the unforgiving Championship.

It was a mistake that United’s Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town would make after the departure of another of the county’s most talismanic managerial forces in David Wagner at a time when they were destined to return to the second tier in 2019.

The name of Jan Siewert is not one that will live long in the memory of Terriers followers.

The German palpably failed to arrest the fortunes of Town, so much so that their first season back in the Championship quickly turned into a scrap against relegation in 2019-20. He was dispensed with quickly.

Leader: Billy Sharp.

Looking at United, some key players will most likely leave Bramall Lane amid the fall-out of relegation from the Premier League – with names such as Sander Berge, John Egan and George Baldock among those being tipped to move on and highly likely to attract interest from the top flight.

But a hardcore of senior players aged 29 and above who were the bedrock of a strong dressing room during the golden years under Wilder are all contracted at the club next season.

Chris Basham, Billy Sharp, Oli Norwood, Enda Stevens, David McGoldrick and John Fleck are the sort of figures who instantly command respect, know the Championship inside out, set the standards and do not suffer fools.

Good professionals of stature who care and influential personalities who the next manager will have to bring along with him and who have a role to play in the club stabilising again next season.

Several have the look of managers and coaches in waiting a few years down the line.

Equally, it would be unwise for the new man to attempt to ease them out quickly and plot a revolution when a shrewd head would surely recognise what they can contribute, certainly next season at the very least.

Jokanovic is somebody who has successfully worked with Norwood before at Fulham and also brought on young players such as Ryan Sessegnon. There are several rising talents at the Lane, with Daniel Jebbison looking the most exciting of the lot.

Doing whatever is necessary to get a tune out of record signing Rhian Brewster, whose first year at S2 has been torrid, and rebuilding the confidence levels of a player who needs to reacquaint himself with the goals trail at a level where he has previously excelled is surely imperative as well for Wilder’s full-time successor.

United dispensed a considerable amount of money in the shape of £23.5m when they bought Brewster to Yorkshire last October and now must invest faith and put a metaphorical ‘arm around the shoulder’ to build up a young man who netted 11 times during a half-season loan at Swansea in the second half of 2019-20 and help him reset.

At just 21, the former Liverpool striker has plenty of time to come again.

A record-equalling 29 Premier League defeats in an abject campaign may be the headline figure of 2020-21, alongside a joint-record worst tally of just 20 goals.

But pride could at least be detected in a run of three wins in their last six outings. Tools were not downed as many suspected. United’s seven top-flight wins arrived in their last 21 games; the heart was beating slowly, but it was still beating at least.

It is credit to interim manager Paul Heckingbottom that United did that. A horrible season could have ended in desperate fashion.

Aside from the odd rough result here and there towards the end – against the likes of Leicester and Tottenham – fortunately, it did not. It was at least something.

Whoever takes charge should have noticed that.

It is an important call for the United hierarchy and needs to be the right one.

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