Sheffield United: Paul Heckingbottom expects his "voice to be heard" on transfer and football business
He delivered it with more subtlety than Slavisa Jokanovic, who explicitly stated he wanted to keep all of his best players.
But having taken charge of Sheffield United, when a combination of results and a troubled relationship with Bramall Lane’s board of directors saw the Serb depart after less than five months in post, Paul Heckingbottom sent exactly the same message to the Championship club’s hierarchy when quizzed about recruitment earlier this week.
By reminding “The Premier League is where you make most money” during yesterday’s pre-match media conference ahead of tomorrow afternoon’s match at Cardiff City, Heckingbottom was making it clear that only players he believes are surplus to requirements should be sold during the January transfer window. Not the likes of John Egan and George Baldock, who boast admirers at Celtic. Or even Chris Basham and Ben Osborn, as they enter the closing stages of their contracts.
Fathoming how to exercise power without upsetting United’s powerbrokers will be one of the factors, if not the most important factor, which decides how long Heckingbottom remains United manager. Results, journalists were told by a director last Thursday when the 44-year-old was unveiled, will not define if he is viewed as a success. Although Heckingbottom himself didn’t believe a word of that, it will not have been lost on him that both of his recent predecessors have struggled to build a rapport with those holding the purse strings.
Handed a wide-ranging brief by owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and chairman Yusuf Giansiracusa, the former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian chief appears to have an advantage over Wilder and Jokanovic. But a veteran of numerous political battles in the past, Heckingbottom knows footballing and financial interests often collide.
“The role is simple,” Heckingbottom said, going into further detail about how United’s new managerial structure is expected to work. “I’ll be involved in every decision. But it’s not my money. Others will set parameters too.”
“I’m not going to get everything I want,” he added. “I can tell you that now. That’s management. What I do expect is that my voice will be heard.”
Despite being one of the most decorated coaches in the EFL, Jokanovic often struggled to rise above the noise as United reprofiled their budgets after being relegated from the top-flight. Within days of starting work, he found himself fielding questions about Aaron Ramsdale and Sander Berge as Arsenal and Napoli began circling around them.
Although Berge remained, primarily because the Italians refused to bid even half of United’s asking price, Ramsdale eventually completed his move to London. Admittedly the player forced the issue - much more aggressively than was appreciated at the time - but with no direct replacement in place Jokanovic, who later saw AS Roma’s Robin Olsen arrive on loan, privately felt United had been a little too eager to do business. That was disputed by his employers. But it set the tone for a marriage which ended in divorce with United 16th in the table.
“On signing players, I don’t have time to be looking at everyone,” Heckingbottom said. “But we’ll have a list of two or three per position and go from there.”