Spotlight on the Sheffield United men playing a key role in promotion push despite off-field distractions - Alan Biggs

The team above the team has had to be especially robust to survive the internal buffeting Sheffield United have endured in recent times.
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Don’t get me started on the unfairness of managers (generally in football) being thrust out to answer on issues beyond their control.

But the Blades have cause to be grateful for Paul Heckingbottom’s front-of-house expertise on top of everything else - and thankful he is a voice supporters trust.

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Just as his players do. Likeability only goes so far in a dressing room. Respect goes further.

Put the two together and it’s a very powerful combination. And a major reason why United’s management team has forged such a close-knit group.

While all the plaudits for Heckingbottom are richly deserved, Stuart McCall and Jack Lester should certainly share in that acclaim.

Both Hecky’s assistants are content to stay out of the limelight, even though both have been managers, McCall many times over. You sense that neither has been happier and that’s important for starters. Also that the trio are genuine friends.

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Now, I hear you on this. Different personalities and even disagreement can be healthy. But I think here there is enough difference to make it work, as it clearly does.

Jack Lester, left, and Stuart McCall with Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom: Darren Staples / SportimageJack Lester, left, and Stuart McCall with Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom: Darren Staples / Sportimage
Jack Lester, left, and Stuart McCall with Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom: Darren Staples / Sportimage

There can only be one chief and Hecky, while showing an amiable and even-tempered face to the world, is capable of his Chris Wilder-like moments. Not as explosive maybe as the man who brought him to Bramall Lane but certainly every bit as demanding as a boss.

McCall and Lester are jokey characters from my experience of them. A twinkle in the eye, a grin never far from the face. But they command respect from excellence in their fields, McCall as a top-flight and Scotland international midfielder, Lester as a poacher of 177 career goals.

And both had spells at Sheffield United. Throw in the manager’s career as a defender and it’s a perfect chemistry. Together, they have created what you can only imagine to be an enjoyable and productive environment, with plenty of learning and laughs in the right place.

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For instance, former Blade Kevin Gage says of McCall: “He’s a fantastic presence in the dressing room. Not just for his football knowledge but his personality and the way he’s got the group together.”

We should not forget amid all this that the people who initially got most of this group together were Wilder and Alan Knill. But putting back the pieces and adding to them has required togetherness behind the scenes as well as in the team itself.

Heckingbottom, McCall and Lester have more than provided it.