What happens next could be critical for the future direction of Sheffield United - Alan Biggs

They told him he wouldn’t be judged on results. They told him he was to lead a long-term evolution based on developing and promoting youth.

By Alan Biggs
Wednesday, 30th March 2022, 12:35 pm

Sounds like music to the ears of a football manager. Except that Paul Heckingbottom knows - and still does despite his early success - that results are the only measure of a manager.

It still applies whether you have a run of bad luck or have players sold from under you - as many with an ear to the ground around Bramall Lane fear might well be the case if Sheffield United stay in the Championship.

Or, indeed, whether those above you, in a bizarre if well-intentioned statement at your unveiling, say that you are safe in any circumstances.

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Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom was told he wouldn't be judged on results

Football management is a world of no excuses even when excuses are valid. Like, for instance, if Paul Heckingbottom saw United fall short of promotion - which would be for no fault of his own - and then face the break-up of one of the most successful squads in the club’s modern history.

There would be sympathy but, however harsh, no hiding place from results. As much as supporters might understand the issues, they would expect an outfit of the Blades’ support and status to keep pushing for the big prize.

All of this might sound a bit bleak at a time of promise and excitement with United fifth and well placed for the play-offs going into the last lap of a turnaround season.

But I genuinely believe that what happens next - on the field - could be critical for the future direction of the club at a time when there is no suggestion that the owners either have, or will commit, the resources to reassemble a new squad of proven talent.

Long-haul jobs, long-term blueprints look good on paper and are in many ways what the game in general needs.

But very few managers, at the sharp end of results, stay in place long enough to see them out.

That is the background to United’s upturn under Heckingbottom and his unremitting determination to keep firing it.

It’s why I ringed these words in an interview with him after the win over Barnsley before the international break: “There was so much talk about the club going forward, these long-term plans and all this stuff. But all I spoke about was this season.

“I know the players and what we’ve got and we’ve managed to climb the table.”

In short, Hecky set his own expectations. It’s unusual for them to be, apparently at least, higher than a club’s.

So much riding on whether he and the players he trusts so implicitly can see it through. I think they can.