Confirming United will not be immediately replacing the three backroom staff members who followed Chris Wilder through the exit door earlier this week, Heckingbottom explained Knill’s situation was a private matter between himself and the board of directors.
One of Wilder’s closest footballing confidants, Knill is understood to have been offered a non-coaching position following the 53-year-old’s departure last month. However, owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud stated during a recent interview with a Premier League rights-holder he would not be installing a director of football either next season or beyond. Jan van Winckel, who advises the Saudi Arabian on sporting matters, effectively performs the role already despite not holding an official position on United’s technical staff.
“There’s a question mark, yes,” Heckingbottom said. “But it’s between him and the club. There’s a reason why it’s not being played out in the press or the media and that’s because they don’t want it to be.”
With injuries already proving an issue at Bramall Lane ahead of Saturday’s trip to Leeds, the resources at Heckingbottom’s disposal as he attempts to oversee an orderly exit from the Premier League were further depleted on Tuesday, when analyst Mikey Allen joined coaches Darren Ward and Matt Prestridge in leaving United who are 14 points adrift of safety with nine games remaining.
Paying tribute to the trio, who helped Wilder deliver two promotions during his time in charge, Heckingbottom said: “It’s not just the people you see on the pitch, there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes too which doesn’t always get noticed, recognised or properly appreciated if people are on the outside looking in.
“It’s a chance for other people to step up now. It’s an opportunity for them and it’s an opportunity they should be looking to take, the same as the players.
"There’s some big people who have been here for a long time who have gone, but now others have to stand up.”