Sheffield United: 'Paul Heckingbottom was always destined to become a manager'

Stuart McCall always suspected Paul Heckingbottom was destined to become a manager, having noticed his obsession with small details and the nuances of football during their spell together at Bradford City.

Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 4:25 pm

McCall, who was unveiled as Paul Heckingbottom’s assistant at Sheffield United last week following Slavisa Jokanovic’s departure, signed the 44-year-old after taking charge of The Bantams at the beginning of his own coaching career.

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, McCall admitted he is not surprised to see Heckingbottom building a fine reputation as a coach; or “football manager” as chairman Yusuf Giansiracusa insisted when the change was announced.

“I’d gone in at Bradford when I left here,” said McCall, who made nearly 100 appearances for United before retiring as a player. “Probably my heart ruled my head a bit, going back, and Hecky had been in on loan before.

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Paul Heckingbottom takes charge of his second game as Sheffield United manager this weekend: Alistair Langham / Sportimage

“Wayne Jacobs was my assistant there at the time and he knew Hecky and insisted he could get him back. So we did.

“He was a student of the game, if you like, that quickly became evident. Hecky was always one that I thought would go on in the game and we kept in touch after that.”

"You could always tell what path he was going to go down," McCall added. "I wasn't surprised in the slightest when he did, because of how he was as a player. He was suited to it even then."

Heckingbottom’s first posting in the technical area came at his former club Barnsley, where he helped them win the League One play-off final and Football League Trophy. After leaving Oakwell, he was appointed by Leeds before making way for Marcelo Bielsa. Hibernian then came calling, a job Heckingbottom accepted after consulting McCall. Capped 40 times by Scotland and a five time title winner with Rangers, McCall also managed at Ibrox after leaving Motherwell.

Paul Heckingbottom and Stuart McCall on the touchline at Bramall Lane next weekend : Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“We spoke then, because I knew the CEO Leeann (Dempster) from my time at Fir Park so it made sense to have a chat,” McCall said. “She’s really good, I like her. Hecky and I, it’s never been constant contact but we’ve always maintained it. Obviously things are going to be different now.”