BARNSLEY manager Keith Hill has refused to rule out a move to Yorkshire rivals Leeds United.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of tomorrow’s home game with Birmingham City, Hill admitted that it was ‘brilliant’ to be linked with the job vacated by Simon Grayson.
Bizarrely, he even quoted Manuel, the Spanish waiter from TV’s Fawlty Towers, when asked if he had been approached.
The Tykes have inflicted defeats on Leeds both home and away this season with Hill winning a host of admirers for his results on a limited budget.
He has only been working in the Championship seven months but transformed his previous club Rochdale from a mid-table League Two outfit to promotion contenders in League One.
Asked about links with the Leeds job, Hill said: “It’s brilliant with respect to myself. I suppose it proves that people are actually taking note – if that’s the case – of the job that we are doing at Barnsley on the resources that we are doing. That’s all it is. Speculation I suppose. At this moment in time.”
On whether he would be interested, however, he added: “To be perfectly honest, somebody once said to me ‘You’re only ever three games away from the sack as a manager’. So I would never rule anything out.”
Pressed further, he said: “I’m interested in my family. I’m interested in Barnsley Football Club. I’m interested in looking after David Flitcroft (his assistant). That’s it. I’m interested in football. Put it that way.”
Hill’s refusal to pour cold water on mounting speculation spoke volumes about his possible interest in the move.
When asked if there had been any approach, he said: “Manuel. I know nothing!” which merely added fuel to the fire.
Ironically, one of Oakwell’s all-time greats – former captain Neil Redfearn – is currently the bookies’ favourite for the Leeds job after winning his first game in caretaker charge against Bristol City last weekend.
He has subsequently been given another three games to prove his worth by chairman Ken Bates.
Hill, 42, joined the Tykes last summer and soon won over the doubters who questioned his credentials and off-beat style of management.
“I feel I am doing a very good job. I think people are actually accepting what we are doing now and how we do things,” he reflected.
“It’s a work in progress. There can’t be this quick fix succession with respect to spending what you haven’t got and then finding yourselves in administration like so many clubs have done. It’s progressive development – that’s what we are capable of doing.
“We got promoted at Rochdale with a budget of £1.2m, I got Rochdale to ninth in League One with a budget of £1.3m and that is ‘bird seed’ with respect to some of the money being spent in League One and in League Two.
“Probably that’s what people are acknowledging now,” he added. “They are acknowledging managers who can actually do something with the money that’s available from a football club rather than spending copious amounts of money in compiling a debt and then leaving through the front or back door.
“As long as myself and the team are getting credit for what we are trying to achieve, and this football club is, then I’m all for it.”
Barnsley have struggled to stay in the Championship for five years since winning promotion under Andy Ritchie in 2006 but are now 15 points clear of the relegation zone and only 12 away from Hill’s target of 51 for safety.
“At the beginning of the season everyone said ‘relegation’ and we were being called the ‘new Scunthorpe’,” Hill said. “All the pundits had us in the bottom three, including ex-managers, and there was a doubt about the player recruitment and a doubt about myself.
“But we are fighting above our weight,” he insisted. “Definitely. One hundred per cent. You have to pinch yourself sometimes when you consider the wages that the teams below are paying. Anything is achievable. We are eight points outside the play-offs and 15 from the bottom three so you have to aim for the play-offs.”
Assessing the task ahead, Hill said: “It’s continual motion trying to drive forward. At every juncture, at the end of a game we are assessing, evaluating, trying to progress, trying to learn from our mistakes, and trying to improve.
“Not just from the playing side but the football club as a whole. The training facilities, the matchday pitch, the changing rooms, the gymnasium, the hotels that we stay at, the coach firm that we use.
“It’s just progressively trying to improve every aspect that will make us that percentage better as a viable concern and as a football team because I am very mindful of results. And so I should be because results and player performances will keep me in a job and, hopefully, will increase more speculation.”
One job that Hill has no intention of applying for, however, is with England.
The Football Association may be drawing up their short-list of candidates following the departure of Fabio Capello but Hill thinks the job is a poisoned chalice.
“I would not take it. Definitely not. I like my life too much,” Hill laughed.
“For me, the England job is a poisoned chalice. Harry Redknapp is the best manager to take England forward but are we and the media going to allow him to take England forward, create a team, and a team environment within the national side? I don’t think we will.
“Within months, he will have a turnip on his head or a carrot hanging out of his ear. It’s such a shame because he is an unbelievable manager.”
Winger Jim O’Brien and defender Jay McEveley have both returned to training following injuries this week and are pushing for recalls in tomorrow’s game.
New signing Stephen Dawson, however, is still another week away after leaving Leyton Orient with an ankle strain.