Paul Heckingbottom opens up on challenges of Sheffield United interim gig - gives thoughts on Slavisa Jokanovic appointment and Chris Wilder departure
Paul Heckingbottom has opened up about the experience and challenge of steering Sheffield United through to the end of last season after being handed the unenviable position of interim manager following Chris Wilder’s departure in March.
Although relegation had long seemed an inevitability, United’s season reached new depths in Heckingbottom’s first game in charge when they were hammered 5-0 at Leicester City, less than 24 hours after the departure of their talismanic former manager was officially confirmed.
“The place was so, so flat,” Heckingbottom told The Athletic. “For the next week, everything was on the floor. The club had lost its leader.
“It was only when I stepped in that I truly realised how hard things had become. The Leicester game had been a mess. I am not going to lie. Everyone knows it was a mess.
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“The whole situation — Covid-19, poor results, Chris leaving — had battered people into submission.”
Heckingbottom’s work as interim boss, restoring a bit of pride and respectability in a season that threatened to go down in infamy, impressed the Bramall Lane hierarchy, who went public with their decision to place his name on a five-man shortlist to become their new permanent manager as a means of gauging supporter opinion.
In the end a manager not initially on that list, Slavisa Jokanović, was named United’s first foreign permanent boss and Heckingbottom is expected to resume his work with United’s promising crop of U23 players.
“Being constantly asked the same question [about the job], despite saying time and time again I wanted to go back to the U23s, was the worst thing for me,” Heckingbottom added.
“If I’d wanted the job, I’d have come out and said it.
“That is not me disrespecting the club. If they had sat me down yesterday and said: ‘The job is yours, Paul’, then, of course, I’d have found it very hard to turn down. But I didn’t come to Sheffield United to be a manager.
“Slav coming in is a new beginning for Sheffield United and everyone should be excited about.
“Regardless of the club not being in the league we want it to be in, just enjoy the journey as we try to get back.”