Sheffield United's promotion winning manager Paul Heckingbottom is hailed as a tactical genius
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Talent is a prerequisite. But in order to translate that into achievement, players must demonstrate a determination not to let what they haven’t got define who they are. It is something, week in and week out, Heckingbottom and those around him have done to ensure the off-the-pitch issues which would have engulfed other clubs did not influence results on it.
But speaking ahead of tomorrow’s visit to Huddersfield Town, one of United’s two remaining matches before their return to the Premier League, one of the 45-year-old’s closest confidants has identified another important weapon in what has proved a formidable armoury.
“Tactically, the manager is as good as I’ve seen,” Jack Lester, United’s head of player development and attack coach, told The Star. “The way he works in the games, the things he sees and how he reacts to them, both beforehand and during the action, is top drawer, it really is. Honestly, I’ve not come across any better. He’s the best at that I’ve worked with.”
Lester operated under the likes of David Platt, Frank Barlow, Gary Megson, Alan Buckley, Kenny Swain and of course Neil Warnock, now in charge of Town, during a playing career which saw him represent the likes of United, Nottingham Forest and Grimsby Town before entering the world of coaching. His respect for Warnock was evident, when he faced the media at United’s training complex on Tuesday to preview the visit to West Yorkshire. But Lester made no secret of the fact he believes Heckingbottom is equipped with both the character and the intellect to eventually join him in the conversation about who is Bramall Lane’s greatest ever boss; a discussion which also includes Dave Bassett and Chris Wilder.
“When we first came through in football, there wasn’t as much analysis as there is now,” Lester continued. “The resources, what is made available to you, all the different information, it’s really moved on beyond all recognition. How you use all of that, it’s important though.
“What I like here is that our team meetings very rarely last longer than 15 minutes. There’s days of work that go into them but the manager makes sure it’s all condensed and simplified into what people actually need. There’s an art to that, trust me and it’s not easy. But he does it extremely well.”
United enter their meeting with Warnock’s side, who require a point to make sure of their second tier status, on course to set a new club record for points accumulated in the division; a mark set by his famous predecessor. After guaranteeing they will finish as runners-up behind leaders Burnley by beating West Bromwich Albion last month, Saturday’s victory over Preston North End was the 27th United have registered in the competition since August. Despite being hit with a transfer embargo, which prevented them from signing new players during the January window, infrastructure issues at the Randox Health Academy and on-going takeover talks, United also reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup this term where they faced Manchester City.
“Paul, tactically, is just so good,” Lester said. “Right up there with the best.”