Head coach Paul Heckingbottom has reaffirmed his commitment to Barnsley amid reports suggesting he is in the frame to succeed Simon Grayson as Sunderland’s manager.
Heckingbottom – Barnsley born and bred – found his name linked with the Black Cats post for the second time in five months after Grayson’s short-lived reign at the troubled north-east club came to an end on Tuesday.
Barnsley’s 40-year-old head coach was among the favourites for the Sunderland job at the end of last season following David Moyes’s departure and the club’s relegation from the Premier League.
Heckingbottom’s star has risen rise after winning promotion and helping the Reds survive in their first campaign in the Championship after just 18 months in the job. Despite losing a number of key players in the summer, he has managed to keep Barnsley competitive in the increasingly unpredictable Championship, and his reputation as a promising young English manager remains strong.
Given he spent four years at Sunderland in the early part of his career, his name is forever linked with the club. But, ahead of Saturday’s visit of Birmingham, he left fans in no doubt as to his passion for his home-town team.
Asked if the Barnsley job still satisfies his appetite, Heckingbottom said: “Yes, undoubtedly so.
“Over the years, whether I was a kid, a player, a coach, or working with the first team, there’s been umpteen opportunities to go elsewhere, but I’ve always chosen to stay here, and that’s been down to me at the time.
“Everybody knows what I think of the place. As a team, we carry on. We have to take it (the interest) as a positive because it shows we are doing something right and that’s how I look at it.
“Other than being asked about it now, it’s not even in my head so that’s as far as it goes.”