Sheffield United: Why the United World network is set to become an even bigger deal at Bramall Lane

Yusuf Giansiracusa, Sheffield United’s chairman, has detailed the club’s strategic vision after Paul Heckingbottom was unveiled as its new manager.

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 9:48 pm

The former Leeds and Hibernian chief, who took caretaker charge towards the end of last season, stepped-up from his position with United’s under-23’s after Slavisa Jokanovic was sacked today.

The Serb, who had previously won promotions with both Watford and Fulham, departed after spending less than six months at the helm.

Speaking at the media conference designed to official unveil Heckingbottom and elaborate on the reasons behind Jokanovic’s exit, Giansiracusa’s description of the masterplan United’s hierarchy have devised - one formulated after the 53-year-old was hired in May - suggested that supporters at Bramall Lane should expect to see more internal appointments from within the United World (UW) structure going forward. UW, whose chief executive Abdullah Alghamdi was also present at Heckingbottom’s coronation, is the network of clubs built by owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud which also includes Beerschot and Chateauroux.

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Sheffield, UK, 25th Nov, 2021. CEO Stephen Bettis, Paul Heckingbottom, Chairman Yusuf Giansiracusa and Director Abdullah bin Yousef Alghamdi at a press conference to unveil Paul Heckingbottom as the new manager of Sheffield Utd at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. Picture date: 25th November 2021. Picture credit should read: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

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Outlining the “three central pillars” of the strategy which hastened Jokanovic’s exit and persuaded United to hand the job to someone they overlooked following last summer’s relegation from the Premier League, Giansiracusa said: “The central pillars are, one - capabilities and rolling value within the club, investing in young players, staff and facilities.

“The second pillar is sustainability. Player and staff development. The third is leveraging synergies between the United World group. We have three fine academies.”

Giansiracusa told journalists that UW now has around 800 researchers and technical staff working under its banner, although “not all of those are full time.” “I didn’t realise it was so many,” he admitted to the audience.

Sheffield Utd CEO Stephen Bettis, Director Abdullah bin Yousef Alghamdi and Chairman Yusuf Giansiracusa during the Sky Bet Championship match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Although Heckingbottom was already in post and initially hired at the best of Jokanovic’s predecessor Chris Wilder before he left United in March, following the deterioration of his own relationship with United’s hierarchy, his elevation appears to mark the start of a trend. When positions become vacant within the UW structure, the first place its leadership will look for candidates is now likely to be inside the organisation. Indeed, listening to Giansiracusa identify Heckingbottom’s responsibilities, it quickly became apparent that the former Barnsley defender, who will be assisted by Stuart McCall and Jack Lester, will also have an input into UW’s overall policy.

“The role of the board under my leadership is being a strategic board, not an operational board,” Giansiracusa said. Our role is to select individuals and evaluate performance.”

Another change of approach concerns public relations, with Giansiracusa announcing that Prince Abdullah will no longer be the “major face” of the club although his role remains unaffected.

“In terms of media, when major events have occurred, Prince Abdullah has been the major face of the club,” he continued, confirming chief executive Steve Bettis has now been handed that responsibility. “He loves football and will still speak but he will not be the one speaking at major club junctures.

“Likewise, you won’t see me much either. Moving forward, I’m not going to be the face either.”

However, reading between the lines, Prince Abdullah, Giansiracusa and the Saudi Arabian’s footballing advisor Jan van Winckel will continue to exert great influence.

“If he (Heckingbottom) brings success, that will have many fathers,” said Giansiracusa. “If it fails, I will take the responsibility.”