By All Blue Daze.
Until last October, mention Slavisa Jokanovic to any English football fan and you’ll probably have received a fairly blank expression. But the former Blues misfit has finally made a name for himself as the promotion-winning boss of the Hornets.
Slavisa Jokanovic had been a fairly mediocre holding midfield player, mainly pottering around the lower reaches of the Jugoslav and Spanish leagues until in October 2000 when Claudio Ranieri signed him for Chelsea.
These were the pre-Roman Abramovich days when a £1.5million fee was a fairly big deal and Blues’ fans were probably expecting some quality to come along.
Before arriving at Stamford Bridge, the midfielder had made around 350 appearances for various clubs, scoring 66 times.
In 39 games for the west London club, however, he never troubled the scorers once. The only surprise is that he managed to get on the field 39 times as he lasted less than two seasons.
Unconfirmed rumours at the time suggested that Ranieri and Jokanovic shared the same agent and that this was somehow a catalyst for the move.
If the purchase was solely based on the manager’s assessment of the quality of the player, and what he would add to the Chelsea squad, the Italian’s judgement was well wide of the mark.
After a dispiriting 18 months at the club, Chelsea moved the Serb on to Ciudad Murcia in the backwaters of the Spanish second tier, from where English football surely never expected to hear from him again. Until, that is, October 2014.
When Watford owner Gino Pozzo dismissed Billy McKinlay, after a mere two games in charge, and appointed Jokanovic as manager, only the most optimistic of Hornets fans would surely have foreseen the success he would have.
With the season only into its third month, the Serb became no less than the fourth man to take control at Vicarage Road since the start of the season.
Watford had kicked off in August with Beppe Sannino at the helm. The Italian had been in charge since December 2013, and as that season drew to a close, he guided the club to a record sixth successive home win without conceding a single goal.
Things looked well set for a good season ahead but such harmony was to be short-lived.
With Watford winning four of their first five games of the season, and sitting second in the Championship, amazingly, rumours began to emerge about discontent in the dressing room due to Sannino’s training methods.
Before the end of August, he had resigned, and moved to manage Serie B side Catania.
Oscar Garcia took up the reins but he resigned after less than a month because of ill health.
The club turned to McKinlay to steady the ship. The Scot had been a coach under Garcia and was well-liked and respected by the squad; and clearly thought he had a chance at holding down the job long term.
He even resigned from his position as Northern Ireland’s assistant manager to devote more time to the Vicarage Road club. Nevertheless, eight days later, he was replaced by Jokanovic.
Pozzo faced a fan backlash but the decision has been vindicated as the Serb guided them back to the Premier League.
Although all of the building blocks were clearly in place when Jokanovic arrived, it still needed a diplomat’s hand as well as a coach’s manual to put them in the right order.
Deploying a fairly laid-back style as well as an impressive eye for detail, he quickly endeared himself to the players, and with the results flowing, to the fans as well.
It’s often said that mediocre players make the best managers — Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho certainly fit that bill.
Watford supporters will be hoping it’s also the case for Jokanovic. For their part, Chelsea fans can confirm the first part of the equation is true.
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