Heckingbottom, previously head coach at Leeds and Hibernian, acted as caretaker when former manager Chris Wilder left his position in March, following the deterioration of his relationship with Bramall Lane’s hierarchy.
Although United eventually appointed Jokanovic, whose departure was relayed to senior players before training this morning, Heckingbottom was also viewed as a potential permanent appointment after handing opportunities to the likes of Daniel Jebbison, Femi Seriki and Iliman Ndiaye.
It is something owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Jan van Winckel, the owner’s de facto director of football, expect him to do again after losing patience with Jokanovic’s methods following a chequered start to the season.
The Serb, a promotion winner with both Watford and Fulham earlier in his career, leaves United after spending less than five months at the helm.
Like Wilder, Jokanovic’s relationship with United’s hierarchy is also known to have become strained in recent weeks although the former Yugoslavia and Chelsea midfielder attempted to prevent the situation from entering the public domain.
After being relegated from the Premier League last term, Jokanovic felt greater changes were required behind the scenes in order to revitalise United’s fortunes. But his only permanent signing during the summer transfer window was a free transfer, when the 36-year-old Adlene Guedioura agreed a 12 month deal after leaving Jokanovic’s previous employers Al-Gharafa.
Former Norwich City and Preston North End manager Alex Neil is known to boast admirers behind the scenes at United. But Heckingbottom will be asked to reprise the role he performed as United spiralled out of the top-flight, after being encouraged to integrate more youngsters into their matchday squad.
Jokanovic handed Ndiaye his full debut earlier this term, after negotiating the Frenchman’s return to the fold following a contractual dispute which had seen him frozen out of United’s plans. Towards the end of last month, he also expressed concerns about Seriki’s predicament at sister club Beerschot, where the defender struggled for chances after being placed on loan. Jebbison, now approaching the half way point of his temporary agreement with Burton Albion, had also been urged to move to Belgium to further his development but refused - preferring to work under Jokanovic’s close friend Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink instead.
Despite rumours that his position was under threat, Jokanovic is thought to have been surprised by the latest turn of events at United. The Serb, a two time double-winner with Partizan Belgrade, is known to have become a popular figure with people working on the ground at United. As The Star revealed before their trip to the Select Car Leasing Stadium, where Jayden Bogle’s second-half finish proved enough to settle the contest, Jokanovic was due to present a list of targets to his employers ahead of the January window with two wingers and a holding midfielder, to replace the injured Guedioura, feauring on his wanted list.