Sheffield United: Why I fear for Blades in the longer term - Alan Biggs
Paul Heckingbottom commands goodwill and rightly so. As do Stuart McCall and Jack Lester in Sheffield United’s all new management team.
Can they swim against the tide of an increasingly remote regime that commands very little of the same goodwill, or respect, from the club’s support?
Yes, but for a limited time in my opinion. And not for the four years of the contract unless something changes dramatically behind the scenes.
That’s why I fear for them longer term and, even more so, the club. Unless they win promotion with THIS squad THIS season. It’s their best shot.
But there is actually an underlying honesty in the replacement of a successful big-earning boss with one who comes considerably cheaper.
It is effectively an admission that owner Prince Abdullah can’t afford to compete at the level Unitedites have naturally come to expect of an exceptionally well supported club. Fair enough, no shame, as long as attempts to secure investment are genuinely underway.
At face value, the idea that Heckingbottom will be “manager” and govern football at all levels, is refreshing and good. But being spared responsibility for results?!
Who can truly believe that? Heckingbottom, a true and honest pro, certainly won’t judge himself on that basis. Nor will supporters.
Long-term plans are great, and sadly lacking in the game, but how long is long?
This for a club that has spectacularly failed to capitalise on the considerable spin-off of two years in the Premier League. This achieved by a manager it dispensed with.
This evidently promised in turn to palpably the best manager to replace him. This seemingly denied Slavisa Jokanovic, who became the second proven manager to be discarded by an unproven hierarchy.
This does not add up. Results, we are told, cost double promotion-winner Jokanovic his job. Yet Heckingbottom won’t be judged on them?!
Ok, you get the need to remove pressure when funding is an issue and there is some sincerity in that respect.
But Blades fans are entitled to wonder how on earth the legacy of Chris Wilder, one of the club’s all-time greats, is worth so little.
How has it all amounted to settling for promoting youth - from a “United World” portfolio of clubs across Europe - in some sort of “long term strategy”?
But it’s the disconnect, the feeling that the club lacks a heart and soul, that is most concerning. The talk of invisibility with those in power evidently vanishing into the background.
I don’t envy Heckingbottom being thrust out, right, left and centre. The blank sheet of paper - which is great - appears to be accompanied by a blank cheque book in terms of major recruitment for a squad that will need an overhaul, imminently if not immediately.
Which is not to say he can’t defy the odds. While his record, with Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian, is patchy, he is an experienced, likeable guy who knows everyone around Bramall Lane and is well respected. He has also sampled controversial regimes at both Elland Road and Oakwell.
I wish him well and I’m sure the same goes for most fans. He could get his employers off the hook.
As for Jokanovic, when a club hires a manager and then gets rid of him quickly we rightly question those who made the choice in the first place.
But on this one, they got it right. That’s what’s so different here.
What they got wrong was either failing to back him in the manner he’d been led to believe or making promises they couldn’t keep. After that, a fall-out was inevitable and Jokanovic appeared to create a sacking climate by going public with window demands he knew could not be met.
But let’s fall in behind Heckingbottom as things stand. He and the players deserve that and, as they showed during the reset of a win over Bristol City, the crowd won’t sell them short.MORE – 'This team must reflect the personality of the city' insists a member of Bramall Lane's new regime