Sheffield United: 'I am here because of you,' Slavisa Jokanovic tells The Blades as he speaks publicly for the first time since taking charge
The club’s social media team had been doing their best to whip-up the excitement, posting a steady stream of pictures on its official Instagram account.
And at 6pm on Friday, exactly five weeks to the day since his appointment was announced, Slavisa Jokanovic appeared for the first time in public as Sheffield United manager.
As you would expect from someone of the Serb’s pedigree and calibre, he produced a consummate performance - grabbing the attention of those invited with his thoughts on the game, the challenge ahead and why, despite being courted by countless other teams, he decided this was the right one for him.
“The team, and the fact I think we can be successful and they can make me successful,” Jokanovic explained. “That is my principal reason for taking the job.
“I also hope and am looking forward to playing in front of full stands, because I know how powerful that can be here. Those are reasons why I am here. They are simple but very good reasons, I think.”
Seated on the tarmac in front of the Tony Currie Stand, wearing an immaculately tailored suit paired with collar and tie, Jokanovic spent the best part of an hour outlining his vision for United and how he plans to achieve it. Affable, good-humoured and willing to engage in conversation with the assembled media, the former Yugoslavia and Chelsea midfielder spoke with purpose and conviction; two qualities United will need in abundance over the course of the next 10 months after being relegated from the Premier League last term.
“Football isn’t about travelling to the mood,” Jokanovic insisted. “It is about being smart, being clever and opening yout mind.
“That is what we have spoken about with the players, who I have enjoyed meeting. We are always pragmatic. There isn’t only one way of playing.”
“There isn’t a right way or a wrong way in general,” he continued. “But there is a right way and a wrong way depending on your team. We have ideas and the club obviously has ideas and identity.
“So we look at that, look at what we have got, and we take things from there.”
Jokanovic knows exactly what it takes to win promotion from the Championship. He has done it twice before. After guiding Watford into the top-flight six years ago, he repeated the feat with Fulham three seasons later. Those two achievements, coupled with his reputation for playing attractive but effective football, ultimately proved impossible for United to ignore having flirted with the likes of Alexander Blessin and caretaker Paul Heckingbottom following Chris Wilder’s departure.
“You need personality, without that you have nothing, personality and strength (of mind),” Jokanovic said. “I know very well what the aim is here and we hope to fulfil that. I know we have a very good team, albeit one that needs a little bit if refreshing. That is the idea of the club too.”
“I don’t compare (with Fulham and Watford),” he added. “People say Fulham played lovely, great football but who is to say that Watford didn’t play better?
“This is a new club for me and a new way with different styles.”
Jokanovic understands he has big boots to fill, with Wilder schieving legend status before departing in March following a difference of opinion over recruitment and development policy. Although he has his own strategies, Jokanovic acknowledged the fine work of his predecessor and insisted United would be making subtle rather than sweeping changes ahead of the new campaign. Those include a focus on the loan narket and also persuading Sander Berge and Aaron Ramsdale - “two of my best players” - to remain in South Yorkshire amid interest from Napoli and Arsenal.
Having played and coached in seven different countries since turning professional with his hometown side Novi Sad, Jokanovic arrived on Thursday armed with an array of fresh ideas. Although expectation levels are high, pressure will not be an issue for the 52-year-old who represented Partizan Belgrade both on the pitch and in the dug-out before spells in charge of clubs including Muangthong United, Levski Sofia and Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“ The first thing I said to the players is that I am here because of them,” admitted Jokanovic. “I told them that I believe they can help me. Lots of people might think ‘that’s a celever thing to say’ but it’s not. It’s the truth.”
By hiring Jokanovic, United have acquired a manager boasting both the skill set and the presence to help them regain a place among England’s footballing elite. Crucially, they have recruited someone with a point to prove too, with a P45 his reward for delivering Premier League competition to Vicarage Road and officials at Craven Cottage surprisingly dispensing with his services soon after their play-off final victory at Wembley.
Jokanovic promises to be good for United. But United should be good for Jokanovic too, providing him with an opportunity to not only work with a talented squad but also in a city regarded as being the birthplace of the modern game.
Bramall Lane, where his unveiling was staged, is the oldest professional football stadium still in use and also the setting for the world’s first ever tournament.
“I know thus is a football city and I want to make it, or one half of it, very happy,” Jokanovic said. “I know I can be happy living here also. Knowing that I am the first man from overseas to be in charge, that makes me very proud. But I am not the most important person here. Everyone is important.”