BARNSLEY head coach Paul Heckingbottom has rapidly emerged as the leading candidate for the vacant managerial position at Sunderland – who are set to offer him a massive pay hike in a bid to lure him to Wearside.
Heckingbottom has moved to the forefront of the betting to replace Simon Grayson, with his odds to take over being dramatically slashed in the past 24 hours with the Black Cats’ hierarchy intensifying their search to find a new manager this week.
The 40-year-old, on a rolling deal at Oakwell, has impressed the Stadium of Light board with his achievements at Oakwell on a low budget and is said to be keen on speaking to the Wearside club.
Reports have suggested Sunderland are considering making a formal approach to the Reds.
The Black Cats are understood to still be analysing the credentials of several other names before finalising their next move.
Sunderland chief executive Martin Bain recently began the formal interview process, with talks taking place with two potential candidates in Manchester and Leeds – with academy boss Jimmy Sinclair also involved.
Along with Heckingbottom, rival names have been considered, including former Middlesbrough chief Aitor Karanka and ex-Rangers boss and one-time Sunderland striker Ally McCoist, who worked with Bain at Ibrox.
Karanka is keen on a return to management, although sources close to the Spainard have distanced him from the post.
The managerial stock of Heckingbottom, who led the Reds to their highest Championship finish since 2000 last season and whose new-look side are comfortably positioned in 16th place in the table after a summer of upheaval, is currently high.
Heckingbottom recently expressed concerns – not for the first time – at the sense of limbo at the club, with a protracted takeover involving a consortium including Chinese businessman Chien Lee and American investor Paul Conway yet to be completed.
Last month, the Reds’ chief, who spent four years at Sunderland as a youngster without playing a first-team game for the club, expressed his fears about the Reds “standing still” because of ongoing uncertainty and a lack of short and medium-term planning regarding transfers, contracts and the future direction of the club.