Sheffield United caretaker Paul Heckingbottom reveals what has hurt him the most since taking charge

Paul Heckingbottom has admitted listening to Sheffield United’s players being criticised for their performances in the Premier League this season was an excruciating experience, because he knows how much they care about the club.

Wednesday, 28th April 2021, 4:45 pm

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s visit to Tottenham Hotspur and nearly as fortnight after United’s fate was confirmed, Heckingbottom revealed senior figures at the club recently completed an inquest into a campaign which has seen it lose not only 26 of its last 33 top-flight outings but also two-time promotion winning manager Chris Wilder.

Having completed spells in charge of Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian before joining United - initially to coach their under-23’s - Heckingbottom was invited to join the working party which is also thought to have included owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his footballing advisor Jan van Winckel.

“Lessons will be learned and have been learned,” Heckingbottom told The Star. “It would be tough for me to answer because they were private conversations. If I’m having a private conversation with someone, I wouldn’t be too happy if then it found its way into the public domain.

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WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: John Egan of Sheffield United reacts during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United at Molineux on April 17, 2021 in Wolverhampton, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

“I’m not going to answer theoretically. But certain things have been looked at and brought up.”

Although injuries have undoubtedly affected United’s performance levels - compounding the ban on spectators during the Covid-19 pandemic - a number of avoidable issues have also combined to leave them preparing for the trip to London 17 points adrift of safety with only five matches remaining. They include politicking, a lack of consensus behind the scenes about how and where to best strengthen the squad and distrust between the boot room and the boardroom.

Recently identifying Norwich City as an example for United to follow when they look to bounce back at the first attempt, Heckingbottom’s experiences at Elland Road and Easter Road have taught him those are seldom conducive to success.

“We’ve talked about what needs to be put in place and what needs to happen,” Heckingbottom, who was placed in caretaker charge last month, said. “There has to be things in place but it’s no good just talking about them and recognising that. What has to happen now is that we go out there and actually make them happen.”