Paul Heckingbottom reveals the one thing Sheffield United must do in order to give themselves the best possible chance of bouncing back next season
The faces will be different and also, with Sheffield United preparing to radically change how they do business, the methods too.
But Paul Heckingbottom has admitted the club must seek to recreate the camaraderie, spirit and sense of togetherness which were emblems of Chris Wilder’s regime to enhance its prospects of regaining Premier League status next season.
Placed in interim charge last month when Wilder parted company with United after twice leading them to promotion, Heckingbottom was this week confirmed as contender for the role on a permanent basis when chief executive Steve Bettis confirmed his name featured on a five strong shortlist compiled by those leading the selection process.
Despite previously downplaying his ambitions to succeed Wilder, insisting he is happy to return to his job with the under-23’s at the end of a campaign which is certain to end in relegation, Heckingbottom has nevertheless been tasked with helping lay the groundwork for United’s return to the Championship. Members of the board are keen to adopt a more consensual approach towards recruitment, rather than allowing one man too much power. This was a source of consternation for Wilder who, arguing he always put United’s interests before his own, did not appreciate interference from outside sources.
After both managing and playing for Barnsley before moving to Bramall Lane following a spell with Hibernian, Heckingbottom acknowledged his experiences there, combined with Wilder’s success after emphasising the importance of engaging United’s supporters, underlined the importance of appointing someone willing to embrace Bramall Lane’s identity.
“Everyone was in line and in sync, that’s why I always loved coming here to watch before actually working here,” Heckingbottom said. “You could feel everyone was on the same page; that the fans understood how the team wanted to play and they connected and bought into that because it was what they wanted as well.
“There was a really strong set of values, principles that everyone involved had to adhere to and everyone saw what happened. You could feel something was growing and building.”
“I experienced it at Barnsley too, when there was a Barnsley owner, a Barnsley manager and a Barnsley captain,” he added. “There was an alignment between the expectations of everyone and that filtered all the way through the club.
“A bit like here, everyone understood what it stood for and what the values were. When you have that, it gives you a great chance of doing well.”
After overseeing his first victory at the helm following last weekend’s win over Brighton and Hove Albion, Heckingbottom is hoping to deliver another when United visit Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
“The one thing, because they’ve all been in that environment, that these players have never lacked is fight.” he said. “They’ve always given everything, no matter how things have gone, even though it would be easy for them to try and hide away. Instead, they front it up every single day.
“I could see that from afar but it’s even more apparent now when you’re working with them close up.”