The Dutch icon said: “Football is a game of mistakes. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes wins.”
Sheffield United manager Slavisa Jokanovic may have reflected on those words after his side’s home game with Preston on Tuesday and in the Bramall Lane meeting with Huddersfield on August 21 when painful but self-inflicted late goals cost the Blades a combined total of three points.
Going back to Cruyff, it was also his belief that, in the dying moments of games when you are chasing a goal, footballing principles usually go out of the window in order to achieve that aim.
Watch a thousand games and there is a very high probability that chasing sides will get the ball forward in direct and often unsubtle fashion to try and do that at the death of matches, throwing bodies forward in the process,
At such times, opposing defences need to heighten their basic tenets of concentration, organisation and communication in that regard to keep the scoreline intact. It was something United didn’t do versus Preston or Town.
During his time at S2, Jokanovic has banged the drum about the need for ‘clear minds’.
The word he used regularly ahead of the Blades’ trip to Hull City tomorrow was ‘personality’ with memories of the brutal late denouement in the fifth minute of stoppage time on Tuesday when North End substitute Emil Riis Jakobsen cashed in on poor defending from a set-piece from Jack Robinson to deny the hosts victory versus North End being foremost in his thoughts.
Football philosophy is one thing, but football games are usually decided by what happens in both boxes. Players can be improved technically, but how do you teach concentration?
Jokanovic said: “We need to work with them and encourage them. They must have the plan and know what they need to do. (As a player), I try and judge and ask myself why I am not screaming and pushing (team-mates) one metre and a half or two metres forward to move the defensive line.
“We are not specialists on this, but we can make these kind of steps. This is about personality, focus and concentration. Sometimes, it is impossible for me to do it and I need to see the personality to push the line and for someone to give the order to team-mates to say: ‘Now, is our moment not to make any mistakes.’ It has been frustrating from us. I am concerned as we arrived in (Tuesday’s) game with a clear plan”
United’s backline could face a figure who they know a bit about at the KCOM Stadium tomorrow – on a day when ex-Blades striker Tyler Smith’s desire to play will not necessarily have anything to do with the fact that the Sky Sports cameras are in town.
Instead of striding out for his hometown side, the Sheffield-born forward, 22, is now at Hull after completing a permanent move there late last month.
Ironically, Smith’s sole first-team appearance for the Blades also arrived in August, when he started in the Carabao Cup tie with Carlisle at Bramall Lane.
It provided one tangible ‘souvenir’ of his time at United – which incorporated five loan spells. At least, he can say that he appeared at first-team level for the club.
A goal – and maiden strike for Hull – against his former employers would be something that he may cherish more if he features.
On the decision to sell Smith, older brother of United youngster Kyron Gordon, Jokanovic added: “Tyler is a very good man and a really good worker. Tyler preferred playing as a striker, but, I saw him play behind the strikers in the one Cup game I used him in.
“He can be a really good football player. But in the balance of our team, I did not have enough space for him and we considered it was better for him to try and do something at another club like (Daniel) Jebbison.”
One young player currently making a big impact at the Lane is Iliman Ndiaye, although Jokanovic acknowledges he will have to manage his game-time carefully – despite his stellar impact in his first two starts.
Jokanovic said: “He impressed us in a positive way, but we will check what is the best way to manage him.
“We cannot put all the responsibility on Iliman. We need more people with similar personalities and quality to win more games.”