For a month now there’s been talk of Chelsea having an A- and a B-list of candidates. The A-List clearly includes headline grabbers Maurizio Sarri and Luis Enrique. Meanwhile the B-List doesn’t get as much attention, but there’s one thing all the names have in common: they play an attractive brand of football.
Jokanović is a Serb who made 39 appearances for Chelsea from 2000-02 as a defensive midfielder. He’s been a manager since 2007, working in Serbia, Thailand, Bulgaria, Spain and, most recently, for Watford and Maccabi Tel Aviv. That might look like a pedestrian curriculum vitae, more suited to a journeyman than to a Chelsea prospect.
But he led Partizan Belgrade in his home country to two consecutive domestic doubles, before stepping back from the sidelines for three years. Once he got his appetite back for coaching, he went to Thailand and took Muangthong to an unbeaten season. Next, he led Watford to promotion from the Championship and then resigned after being offered an unsatisfactory contract. And in the first half of the 2015-16 season, he took Israeli side Maccabi to the Champions League group stages.
In December 2015 he joined a struggling Fulham and immediately stood out in the rough-and-tumble Championship as a coach who got his teams to play attractive, possession-based football. He pulled the troubled club eleven points clear of the relegation zone. The following season he took the Cottagers all the way to the Championship playoffs, losing in the first round to Reading, 2-1 over two legs.
This season he’s back in the playoffs and made it past the first round, beating Derby County by the same 2-1 scoreline. That set up a final playoff match at Wembley next Saturday between Fulham and John Terry’s Aston Villa. Should Chelsea be serious about considering Jokanović, we’ll be watching with mixed emotions.
Tactically, he’s flexible, adapting to his players rather than imposing a system. His teams score a lot (joint-most last season, second-most this season) but they also concede a lot (the most among the top five clubs in the Championship this season.) He’s improved Fulham every season despite working with a tight budget.
And at 49, he’s still relatively young. His contract runs through next season and reportedly doesn’t have a buyout.
One last note about the man. If Twitter is to be believed, he’s not exactly an Antonio Conte when it comes to showing emotions. In fact, he may be just the opposite.
This is Slavisa Jokanovic’s ecstatic face. pic.twitter.com/tUVPIwq4d9— Nick Miller (@NickMiller79) May 14, 2018
Some could say this would be same facial expression many Chelsea fans would make if he is hired by the club. But for now, he is at most a wildcard way behind more prominent names. Hopes are we won’t be forced to go this deep in our shortlist for a new manager but given the way things seem to be heading at Stamford Bridge right now, you never know.