'This is the Paul Heckingbottom way' - Sheffield United's caretaker manager explains the changes he is planning ahead of FA Cup trip to Chelsea
Paul Heckingbottom has outlined how he plans to stamp his mark on Sheffield United between now and the end of the season, after being placed in temporary charge of the Premier League club.
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea, with the competition representing United’s final chance to ensure a season which appears destined to end in relegation finishes on a positive note - Heckingbottom admitted his first task is “to put a smile back on people’s faces” following a gruelling six months which culminated in Chris Wilder’s departure last week.
Although the former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian chief’s hands are tied to some extent because the squad has been constructed to reflect Wilder’s own philosophy, he acknowledged there are changes United can consider in order to try and inspire an upturn in fortune.
Asked to explain his own managerial philosophy, Heckingbottom told The Star: “Straight away, you are thinking would I pick different personnel?
“If I said pick our eleven in a meeting, there might not be anyone who picks the same team. But in the end it comes down to one person and at the moment that is me.
“Probably from a training point of view it will be different. The biggest differences you make at clubs are transfer windows and ends of seasons. At the minute, because we don't have that opportunity.we are changing how we work in terms of training.”
“I want the training to be really high tempo and the players to have real clarity in terms of their roles,” Heckingbottom continued. “If someone isn't training properly, I won’t pick them.
In terms of their roles in the team, if I can get players understanding what we want, what have we got to lose? Where we are this season, we’ve got nothing to lose. Whilst still delivering the message it counts, because if you’re blaise then you don’t get the intensity or the effort.”
Heckingbottom inherited a squad cut adrift of safety at the bottom of the table and savaged by injury when he was appointed on Saturday evening - less than 24 hours before United were thumped 5-0 by Leicester City. Because of the fast turnaround, Heckingbottom elected not to change their shape for that fixture but, with on-lon centre-half Ethan Ampadu unavailable for selection against his parent club, he could be tempted to unveil a fresh formation at Stamford Bridge.
Having joined United as their under-23’s coach, Heckingbottom is ready to use Steelphalt Academy graduates to provide greater flexibility for a group without any traditional wingers. Wilder’s preference for a 3-5-2 meant he relied upon wing-backs to provide width.
Despite suggesting he is planning a series of subtle adjustments to United’s approach, Heckingbottom admitted what he described as the “fundamentals” his predecessor established during five successful years at the helm are non-negotiable.
“The success this club has had over the past years has been immense,” he said. “It’s been based around a style of play and also so has the recruitment.
“We can’t be playing with out and out wingers. The system and style will be similar. They understand it’s (about) their drive and their hunger. We have to re-establish that as their fundamentals and embed them in the group. Every good Sheffield United team has had that attitude.”