Sheffield United's coaching staff take a step back ahead of top two clash at Burnley

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Some managers would be tempted to micro-manage their players at such a critical stage of the season but, as his second placed team travels to Championship leaders Burnley tomorrow, Paul Heckingbottom has explained why he is taking a different approach.

Rather than obsessing over every aspect of his squad’s preparations for the visit to Turf Moor, or any of its remaining seven matches this season, Heckingbottom is deliberately taking a step back whenever the opportunity arises.

As well as being an attempt to ensure his voice continues to resonate behind the scenes after nine months of relentless competition, the 45-year-old believes that resisting the temptation to obsess over every single detail of life at Bramall Lane allows him to become a more effective coach.

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“They don’t need to see me all the time,” he told The Star, explaining why he is not omnipresent around the training ground. “I don’t need to see them all the time either. I’m very conscious of the fact that I have to be at my best, as well as them. I have to try and make sure the messages we get across are delivered in the right way, and that’s particularly important around match days. I like to have the adrenaline of those, and be involved in all the ups and downs.”

Widely praised for helping United keep their focus throughout a campaign which could have been overshadowed by off-the-pitch issues, including Dozy Mmobuosi’s proposed takeover and a transfer embargo which not only prevented him from making any signings in January but has also effectively put a block on contract negotiations, Heckingbottom nevertheless feels his best work comes during the fixtures themselves.

“I enjoy the games and that’s when I feel, personally, I’m at my best,” he continued. “Sometimes, people might not think I’m listening to them on the touchline but I am, I’m just getting involved in the game. Afterwards, it’s always important to deliver a message that the lads can take into the next week.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom wants to be at his best on match days: Simon Bellis / SportimageSheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom wants to be at his best on match days: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom wants to be at his best on match days: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“I speak a lot about personality and character. So, if I’m not getting absorbed in what’s going on, if I’m not getting involved in how they feel afterwards, then it might not be the right one or have the correct meaning.”

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United traverse the Pennines eight points clear of third placed Luton Town after beating Wigan Athletic on Friday afternoon. They triumphed 5-2 when Vincent Kompany’s side made the journey to South Yorkshire in November, with Heckingbottom warning the Belgian will be desperate to gain revenge for that result during the return fixture.

“The big thing for me is the organisation of the team and knowing that people understand their jobs and their roles,” Heckingbottom said. “But if there’s no personality and no aggression, then all of that becomes irrelevant. That’s why I think it’s important to really be in and around them during the games, more than any other time. I try to react to what is happening. Not just act in a certain way, and put on some sort of front. You need, I believe, to be in the moment to do that.”