Sheffield United still interested in Blessin despite edging closer to crowning Paul Heckingbottom

Sheffield United remain interested in trying to lure Alexander Blessin, the Oostende head coach, to Bramall Lane this summer as officials at the club continue to investigate if they can appeal a decision stating the German would not qualify for a work permit.

Monday, 3rd May 2021, 6:00 am

Despite confirming caretaker Paul Heckingbottom features on a five strong short list of names viewed as possessing the qualities required to succeed Chris Wilder, The Star understands United’s hierarchy are still keen on bringing Blessin to England despite being advised he does not fulfil the criteria required to manage an English team post-Brexit.

That judgement has prompted owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s advisors, including professional lawyer and interim chairman Yusef Giansiracusa, to explore how they might attempt to convince an appeal panel to grant the 47-year-old a special dispensation.

Although they are unlikely to win any such case, it underlines the strength of United’s interest in Blessin that they are still going through the process.

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Oostende's head coach Alexander Blessin pictured during a soccer match between Waasland-Beveren and KV Oostende, Tuesday 24 November 2020 in Beveren-Waas, a delayed match of day 9 of the 'Jupiler Pro League' first division of the Belgian championship. BELGA PHOTO KURT DESPLENTER (Photo by KURT DESPLENTER/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Having previously worked on RB Leipzig’s youth programme, the former Vfb Stuttgart and Lokomotiv Leipzig forward only took charge at the Diaz Arena last summer and therefore has not completed the necessary number of months in the role to manage in England.

Despite attempting to downplay suggestions he might be appointed on a permanent basis since replacing Wilder nearly two months ago, Heckingbottom was informed before last night’s visit to Tottenham Hotspur that Steve Bettis, United’s chief executive, would be publicly confirming his candidacy.

Initially recruited to oversee their under-23 team, senior figures in South Yorkshire have been impressed by the way Heckingbottom has played what, by his own admission, was a remarkably difficult hand following Wilder’s controversial exit following a series of disagreements behind the scenes.

Having overseen United’s first victory of the post-Wilder era when Brighton and Hove Albion were beaten nine days ago, their 4-0 defeat in north London is unlikely to have damaged Heckingbottom’s case too much given the squad’s failings since September.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 02: Eric Dier of Tottenham Hotspur battles for possession with Lys Mousset of Sheffield United during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Sheffield United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 02, 2021 in London, 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 Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

“We know, when we are playing against world class players, we have to be at our best and we weren’t first-half,” he said. “That was what disappointed me the most, and it needed a shake-up at the break.”

Already consigned to relegation following a wretched campaign plagued by injuries and off-the-pitch issues, United recently invited Heckingbottom, who is being assisted by Jason Tindall, to begin laying the groundwork for their return to the Championship.

Slavisa Jokanovic, who won promotion from the second tier with Watford and Fulham before joining Al-Gharafa, would be a popular choice among supporters if, as expected, he leaves the Qatari club. However, United are yet to make contact with either the Serb or his representatives. Lincoln City’s Michael Appleton is also known to boast at least one admirer among United’s hierarchy.

Having stressed the need for United to make a positive start to life back in the English Football League, Heckingbottom spoke about the need to “change the mood” around the squad ahead of its trip to the capital, where Gareth Bale scored a hat-trick before Son Heung-Min completed the rout during the closing stages.