Key Sheffield United plan proposed by the boss placed on ice even before transfer embargo

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Sheffield United’s plan to hire a new defence coach had already been placed on ice before the club was placed under a transfer embargo, The Star can reveal.

Speaking earlier this season, Paul Heckingbottom detailed his intention to appoint someone with direct responsibility for improving United’s rearguard in order to increase the amount of time he can spend managing the squad as a whole. The step would have mirrored changes he introduced soon after taking charge 14 months ago, which saw his assistants Stuart McCall and Jack Lester tasked with organising role specific sessions for United’s midfielders and attackers respectively. A full-back during his own playing career, Heckingbottom has combined his day to day duties at Bramall Lane with providing one to one advice to the likes of John Egan, Jack Robinson, Max Lowe and Jayden Bogle.

Despite apparently receiving the green light to begin the search for a suitable candidate during the opening weeks of the campaign, the 45-year-old acknowledged takeover talks which could see owner Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud relinquish control had prompted a rethink.

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“It’s on hold for the time-being,” Heckingbottom confirmed, when asked if he still wanted to hire a defensive coordinator. “Because of what’s going on, (the takeover), it’s not something we’re actively doing at the moment. We’ll wait and see what happens.”

The order, which prevented Heckingbottom from approaching some of the potential candidates he had identified, is understood to have been received around the time negotiations between Prince Abdullah and the person interested in purchasing United reached an advanced stage. The individual concerned is understood to have already handed over two payments, one of which is thought to relate to an exclusivity agreement, after talks with the Saudi Arabian progressed. But that has not prevented United from being prohibited from processing new registrations after failing to meet their financial obligations relating to a previous transaction in the transfer market.

Despite being forced to contend with a series of problems behind the scenes, including a lengthy delay to the installation of a new training surface at the Randox Health Academy, Heckingbottom’s staff and players have excelled on the pitch this term. Last week’s victory over Hull City saw them finish the latest round of Championship fixtures in second place and 13 points clear of third with 18 matches remaining. United enter Sunday’s FA Cup fourth round tie against Wrexham having won eight and drawn one of their last nine outings in all competitions. Only five goals have been conceded during that run, but Heckingbottom is convinced that record should not allow United to become complacent.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom (centre) with Stuart McCall (right) and Jack Lester: Darren Staples / SportimageSheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom (centre) with Stuart McCall (right) and Jack Lester: Darren Staples / Sportimage
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom (centre) with Stuart McCall (right) and Jack Lester: Darren Staples / Sportimage

“Macca was a midfielder, Jack was a striker and so they do a lot of work with the lads who play in those positions away from the main sessions,” Heckingbottom said, explaining the thinking behind the idea to bolster United’s backroom staff before the English Football League sanctioned his employers. “I do those with the lads at the back but I think it would help to have someone there doing the same.

“Mind you, I can understand the ‘if it’s not broke, then don’t fix it’ theory. We’ll carry on as we were and it’s worked out okay so far.”