Jack Lester, the new manager’s head of player development, admits Heckingbottom wants to introduce a style of play which reflects the “personality of the city” after replacing Slavisa Jokanovic at the helm nearly a fortnight ago.
But Lester, who has been granted special dispensation to tutor the centre-forwards within Bramall Lane’s first team squad, insisted the 44-year-old’s desire to make United more competitive and aggressive does not mean the sophisticated, intelligence led approach adopted by his predecessor is no longer valued.
“I want to do a lot of work with the attackers and often, it’s all about the little nuances,” Lester, a former United centre-forward himself, said. “It can be about those little movements you make, the slight adjustments to the position that you take up. It’s not all about being hell for leather.”
“We want players who are ready to work hard and make it competitive, every single training session,” he continued. “It’s amazing how, throughout my career, the lads who were willing to do that and tended to do a little bit more during training were the ones who went the furthest and achieved the most.
“But at the same time, you’ve got to be clever. I remember getting taught about how to lose a marker, how to come into the penalty area without anyone really noticing you. All of those little bits of gold dust, that’s what we want to see and want to pass on as well.”
After beating Cardiff City 3-2 last weekend, United enter Monday’s home game against Queens Park Rangers hoping to stretch their winning run to four matches having beaten Bristol City and Reading - Jokanovic’s final appearance at the hem - en route to the Welsh capital. Billy Sharp, United’s leading goalscorer this term, and David McGoldrick were both on target during that fixture and are being encouraged to pass on their knowledge to youngsters such as Daniel Jebbison and Iliman Ndiaye. Currently on loan at Burton Albion, Jebbison scored on his full Premier League debut during Heckingbottom’s spell in caretaker charge last season and could be recalled from Staffordshire if an opportunity for regular action in South Yorkshire presents itself.
“Some of the best coaches, they are your experienced players,” Lester said. “People have got to be hardworking and there’s no excuses not to be. We want people to get on the ball and be fearless and exciting.
“But we’re also trying to create an environment where it’ really enjoyable too. Because if you’re not enjoying yourself, then it becomes harder to win games of football.
“It’s not about giving the players everything they want. But the one who want to do all of that, they’ll be the ones who come with us.”
“Ultimately, we’ve got to be as competitive as possible out there,” Lester added. “But that’s also got to be mixed with cleverness as well.”