'This group can bounce straight back' insists Sheffield United's caretaker Paul Heckingbottom who remains in the dark about his future
Paul Heckingbottom told Sheffield United’s relegated players he believes they have what it takes to make an immediate return to the Premier League next season, after watching them finish what has been a troubled campaign at Bramall Lane with a win over Burnley.
David McGoldrick’s first-half goal ensured United waved goodbye to the competition in the best fashion possible - securing only their seventh victory since September on the day when supporters were welcomed back inside the stadium for the first time since the Covid-19 outbreak.
Placed in temporary charge when Chris Wilder left the club in March, Heckingbottom again refused to be drawn on whether or not he is a contender to take over on a permanent basis when questioned on the matter following the final whistle.
However, he was more committal when asked what his message to the squad was in the dressing room afterwards, saying: “I just talked about next season. I said there’s enough in here for you guys to be up at the top.
“I told them you still have to earn your wins out there (in the Championship) though. You can’t switch off or think it’s going to be easy. But I know this group isn’t made like that.”
“I also told them it’s down to them to have that drive and determination they’d just shown out there,” Heckingbottom continued. “I told them you can’t look for excuses or take them. You just have to go out there and do it. But I know what they’[re capable of and I know what they’re about. There’s nothing I’ve seen, nothing whatsoever, to make me think they can’t give it (promotion) a really good shot.”
With United’s search for Wilder’s replacement about to enter its third month, Heckingbottom insisted he remains unaware when an appointment will be made, despite meeting chief executive Steve Bettis for “a brief chat” on Saturday. Slavisa Jokanovic, previously of Fulham and Watford, has held talks about the role while Philippe Clement, the Club Brugge head coach, has been linked with a move to South Yorkshire. Alexander Blessin, of Oostende, and Michael Appleton, who has led Lincoln into the League One play-off final, also boast admirers among United’s hierarchy.
“I had a brief chat with Steve yesterday,” Heckingbottom, who joined United to oversee their under-23’s squad. “We’ve got an under-23’s final on Monday, that we want to win, and then I’m planning to put my feet up with my family. That’s what I’m expecting to do - to chill out.”
“It is really important that we make a decision, really important. There’s players and staff that need talking to, and the sooner the better because of that.”
“Whoever does come in, they’re going to be taking over a really hungry group,” Heckingbottom added, as United prepare to make an announcement on which out of contract players will be offered new deals. “I think they’re going to be taking over one that’s got enough to challenge to bounce straight back, because there’s some real quality in there and some real quality getting ready to c ome back (from injury).”