Barnsley boss Heckingbottom turns deaf ear to '˜white noise' of speculation

Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom (Picture: Jon Buckle/PA Wire).Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom (Picture: Jon Buckle/PA Wire).
Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom (Picture: Jon Buckle/PA Wire).
IF last year taught Barnsley anything, it was surely the need to be proactive and take preventative measures.

As well as the Reds performed on the pitch in an eye-catching first half of last season, it was the long-term futures of several key players, including Conor Hourihane and Sam Winnall, which increasingly hogged the agenda at countless press conferences through swathes of 2016-17, particularly in late autumn and winter.

The weeks passed by with no successful resolution regarding those players and others signing new deals at Oakwell. Sadly, it was with a degree of inevitability that some of the family silver was sold in the January transfer window with fewer than six months to go on existing deals – with Barnsley leaving themselves horribly exposed.

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Fast forward to the present day and the prize asset who Reds supporters are currently fearful of heading to pastures new is the one individual who they cannot really afford to lose – manager Paul Heckingbottom.

Strongly linked with a move to Sunderland this week, it remains to be seen if interest is firmed up by the Wearsiders and they make their play.

At his pre-match press conference, the Reds’ head coach straight-batted talk of a switch to the North-East despite frenzied speculation and insisted no contact had been made.

The situation was “hypothetical” as he put it, while cannily ruling nothing in or out.

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There have been other hypothetical situations in the past with the likes of Norwich and Nottingham Forest linked with Heckingbottom earlier this year. There may be more.

But it is case of when, not if, some Championship rival makes a definitive move for the Yorkshireman, who has proved proficient at turning straw into gold at second-tier level.

Heckingbottom, on a rolling 12-month deal, is widely reported to be one of the lowest-earning managers in the Championship.

Even accounting for the uncertainty behind the scenes at Barnsley regarding a protracted takeover, now is the time to show just how highly the club value their main asset by providing a bit of an incentive for him to realise his ambitions at his hometown club and provide stability and assurances too.

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On the Sunderland rumours, Heckingbottom said: “Nothing has changed. I have always said I am happy (at Barnsley). But I am also ambitious and driven; of course I am.

“It is not being big-headed in any way, but you’d like to think you are on people’s lists. Whether they (Sunderland) would take it any further is down to them.

“There have definitely been opportunities (before). If I did not want to be here, I would not be. Everybody knows I want to be here.”

Just as Heckingbottom attempted not to be distracted by speculation regarding the future of a number of leading players last year, so the current background noise and rumours regarding his own future are being blocked out as best he can.

This can be onerous, at times.

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He added: “For nearly 18 months, this is stuff I have been dealing with.

“If you are not careful and do not treat it as speculation, then you can be distracted and lose focus.

“You have to blank yourself off from it. Anything other than what is going to help me and the team is just white noise to us. We must focus on our job.

“I am here because I choose to be here, that is it and the only thing I know that is fact.”