United officially surrendered their top-flight status on Saturday night, when a 1-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers saw them finish the game 19 points adrift of safety with only six matches of the season remaining.
Placed in caretaker charge following Chris Wilder’s departure last month, Heckingbottom acknowledged he expects several high profile players to depart rather than pursue careers in the second tier.
But highlighting how Norwich City’s refusal to organise a fire sale after going down last term has helped them make an immediate return to the PL, Heckingbottom said: “Keeping the group together as much as possible, that has got to be a priority. Of course, people will go. But we have to be keeping the majority.”
United will look towards Carrow Road for inspiration when they begin repairing the damage caused by a chaotic campaign which has seen them lose both their long-serving manager and all but six of their 32 outings in the competition so far this term. If United beat Brighton and Hove Albion at Bramall Lane on Saturday, it will be only their fifth top-flight victory since September.
City lost 10 in a row as they spiralled out of the division last term but regained their top-flight status a matter of hours before United’s fate was sealed at Molineux.
Noting how City retained Todd Cantwell, Teemu Pukki and Emiliano Buendia despite seeing all three attract interest from rival clubs, Heckingbottom said: “I think that Norwich pathway has to be the goal for the club.
“You are always going to see people go, people always move on in every different situation. But what they did was make sure that they kept the nucleus and the ones they knew that would develop and would give them the best chance of doing what they’ve been able to achieve.”