Alan Biggs: If Sheffield United don't go for Slavisa Jokanovic then Paul Heckingbottom is next best option

He’s what might be termed the continuity candidate and there’s an awful lot to be said for continuity at Bramall Lane right now.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 12:00 pm

Not that there isn’t for Paul Heckingbottom as a man or coach. Only that Sheffield United seem to be shying away from making a big statement having appeared to envisage a better future than the one Chris Wilder afforded them.

This change in itself was a big statement. Delivering action after words - and not a few of them slung in the direction of a double promotion winner - has presented a reality which it is expensive to embrace.

And if the Blades are not going for the best qualified man for the job - palpably Slavisa Jokanovic in my view and many others - then Heckingbottom makes more sense than alternatives.

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Paul Heckingbottom interim manager of Sheffield Utd during the Premier League match at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London. David Klein / Sportimage

In fact, having made Jokanovic this column’s first, second and third choice, I’d put the caretaker manager in fourth place. Effectively that makes him first.

It’s not only that he knows the club, having been detailed upwards from the Under 23s, or that he favours the practicality of continuing with the previous boss’s 3-5-2 system, it’s just that he has relationships geared to keeping body and soul together. Or at least striving to do so.

The former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian boss may not be steeped in the Blades like his predecessor but he shares many of the same values.

And those who know him better than I do, after just a few interviews at previous clubs, will all tell you that he’s a good, genuine person, a quality not to be overlooked at the head of a squad put together on those values.

Economics may intervene but you’d give Hecky, as he’s universally known, a better chance than most to keep key players and prevent an exodus among the many who were loyal to Wilder.

Doubtless he wouldn’t have the same sway in the overall running of the club, which was a huge catalyst for recent events, and backroom technician Jan Van Winckel will become potentially the most influential figure in this Prince Abdullah regime.

Nothing necessarily wrong with that providing it works. Indeed, Norwich have successfully operated a similar model.

However, Heckingbottom should not be mistaken as a yes man or a soft touch. He may not have exhibited his displeasure in the same outward manner as Wilder, but there were times at Barnsley and Leeds when he let his feelings be known behind the scenes.

And one truth to end with here. If United don’t shape up for a promotion bid next season, the manager will be the focus of supporters’ discontent and not the arguably more powerful Van Winckel.

So, if Heckingbottom lands the job, he deserves enough power - especially over transfers - to master his own destiny.