Paul Heckingbottom’s big claim about his Sheffield United future and club’s long-term plans
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Paul Heckingbottom believes he is “100 per cent” the man to continue taking Sheffield United forwards into the future, even if they are relegated from the Premier League this season. Heckingbottom is facing intense pressure and scrutiny after United took one point from their first 10 games.
That outside “noise” is creating a distraction for Heckingbottom and his players, the manager admitted, although he concedes that it goes with the territory for a team in a run of form like United’s. The Bramall Lane board have so far kept faith with a man they appointed in 2021 to oversee a long-term plan, with emphasis on making United a self-sustainable club and bringing through academy players.
Heckingbottom has certainly not been scared to blood youngsters, with 17-year-old Ryan One the latest to taste Premier League football last weekend at the Emirates. He is also driving the Blades forward off the pitch, as they look to improve their training facilities to become a category one academy and also re-open the hotel at Bramall Lane, alongside looking to turn around their fortunes on it.
Asked ahead of today’s crunch clash with Wolves whether he still believes he is the man to take the club forward beyond this season, no matter United’s divisional status, Heckingbottom conceded the decision was out of his hands. “Could I do that? Yes, 100 per cent,” he added. “I think everyone could see the changes and how that would benefit.
Hecky spells out United challenge as key man sets example “But it’s like last season when everyone thought it was rosy – the first-team results papers over any cracks. It’s what we all talk about. So the job on the pitch in the last two years has hidden a lot and meant we could get on with all that stuff unnoticed if you like. Generally, when a club is struggling financially or you have a transfer embargo on you and are giving a lot of academy players debuts, that correlates with a relegation.
“We did the opposite – so that’s a reflection of the alignment between the academy and the first-team, and the environment that the boys have all created here in terms of the demands. That won’t change, but we need to keep pushing those things forward, to keep delivering a better player when they are 17, 18 and 19. Then selling players when we need to sell them, so that we have more money to reinvest in the first-team squad. That’s the plan.”
United’s status as a category two academy continues to leave them vulnerable to having their young stars poached - as happened with Kylan Midwood and Will Lankshear, picked up by Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur - while their transfer embargo earlier this year saw them miss out on some promising youngsters who instead went elsewhere.
“We’ve made big strides with that but there’s still other things we need to do off the pitch,” Heckingbottom said. “We’ve lost players we didn’t want to lose, in terms of younger players. We did well for the future of the club in terms of getting to the Premier League and getting that security there.
“But in terms of building now, there’s big commitment to getting the new revenue streams going in terms of the hotel and the new training facility which will enable us to go category one and protect our good young assets. And then, only then, are we in a position to start delivering on those long-term things.”