Sheffield United boss explains why call-ups were a help, not a hindrance, to promotion push

Despite threatening to complicate his selections and increasing the workload on Sheffield United’s squad, manager Paul Heckingbottom has explained why seeing so many of the club’s players selected for international duty at a critical stage of the season should enhance its prospects of reaching the Premier League.
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Second in the Championship table with eight matches remaining and with an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City also being squeezed into their already congested schedule, Heckingbottom could have been forgiven for bemoaning the number of call-ups United received last month ahead of the latest round of Euro and AFCON qualifiers and friendly fixtures.

Although he admitted the prospect of losing key performers to injury caused a degree of anxiety behind the scenes as coaching staff waited for the likes of John Egan, Iliman Ndiaye and Anel Ahmedhodzic to return, Heckingbottom stressed the benefits of seeing them picked by their respective countries far outweighed the risks.

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“Let’s take John as an example,” he said. “He’s proud to play for Ireland and, if you ask him, he wants to play every single minute in every single one of their games. He also knows, in order to do that, hes got to consistently achieve a certain level in terms of his standards week in and week out otherwise that’s not going to happen. It drives him on. Being so committed to do his best for us and then his country, it only helps. That’s why I always celebrate these lads going away. It’s the pinnacle of what they can do and they know, in order to do it, they have to be at their best all the time. Every single day.”

United enter Friday’s game against Wigan Athletic on the back of a hard-fought win over Norwich City at Carrow Road - their first outing since the pause in the domestic schedule. That result, achieved thanks to a goal from England under-21 midfielder James McAtee, saw them move six points clear of third place.

“I never understand it when people moan,” said Heckingbottom, whose side visits leaders Burnley on Monday. “These lads should be praised for getting to the very highest level and they know going up with us will make them even better players.”