Head-to-head: How does Barnsley’s Paul Heckingbottom compare with the great Rafa Benitez of Newcastle?

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Barnsley face Newcastle United tonight in a Championship fixture which pits world-renowned manager Rafael Benitez against Barnsley’s Paul Heckingbottom, a relative novice in comparison.

As one of football’s most decorated managers, Benitez has racked up a multitude of accolades throughout his near-25-year career, famously winning the Champions League in 2005 with Liverpool and the Europa League with Chelsea.

Paul Heckingbottom, the 
Barnsley manager

Paul Heckingbottom, the Barnsley manager

He even won the continent’s second-tier competition with Valencia in 2004, back when it was known as the UEFA Cup.

Domestically, Benitez has won league and cup competitions in England, his native Spain and Italy.

Heckingbottom is no slouch though. In less than a year as manager, the 39-year-old from Barnsley has two wins at Wembley to his name, helping the Reds win the FA Trophy before returning a month later to steer his hometown club into the Championship.

Superficially it would seem a no-brainer, that Benitez’ illustrious managerial career would automatically out-rank Heckingbottom, and yet the statistics might imply otherwise.

Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez

Early in Benitez’s career, the successes were outweighed by the losses, with initial win percentages of just 38.71 per cent during his first appointment in control at Real Madrid B.

This quickly dropped to under 15 per cent with Valladolid, and remained under 30 per cent at Osasuna in 1996.

In direct comparison, Heckingbottom – in his first stints as caretaker manager with Barnsley last season – achieved over 60 per cent during both periods.

The two managers had similar starts to their careers, with time spent in youth teams at major clubs. Injury played a large part in Benitez’s retirement from play, and prompted his subsequent move into management.

Heckingbottom on the other hand, had a much longer career on the field, playing for almost 20 years before making the transition.

His debut with Manchester United’s youth team in 1993 came in the same year as Benitez’ first foray into management with Real Madrid B.

In the opposite dugouts at Oakwell tonight, one man has two decades of experience on the pitch, the other two decades in charge.

Which is more valuable? A look at the above figures would suggest that coming into a leadership role from extensive playing experience produces better results.

Benitez’s initial average performance could have been a result of a lack of practical experience, but at the moment it is impossible to say whether Heckingbottom can maintain his initial good fortune and be an effective leader to take his club to the next level.

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