The 40-year-old left Elland Road yesterday after just 115 days and 16 games in charge. He learned his fate while on a family holiday in Rhodes.
Former Argentina and Chile chief Marcelo Bielsa, described last year as the “best coach in the world” by Pep Guardiola, is understood to have been lined up as Heckingbottom’s replacement.
Sources were quick to make clear last night that other candidates are also under consideration, including Claudio Ranieri and Michael Laudrup.
But talks are believed to have taken place between Leeds and the highly-regarded Bielsa, managing director Angus Kinnear last week having spent time in Argentina.
“Our objective is to bring in a head coach with more experience who can help us reach the goals we have talked about since we became custodians of the club last summer,” said Kinnear after yesterday’s parting of the ways.
“We are confident of making a quick appointment and we thank our fans for their continued support.”
As for Heckingbottom, United’s poor form – he won just four games, including two in the final fortnight of the campaign – proved his undoing.
Meetings with the club hierarchy designed to plot a path forward once the season ended are also understood to have seen little agreement reached in terms of either recruitment or which players should leave.
Assistant manager Jamie Clapham, head of fitness Nathan Winder and analyst Alex Bailey have also left the club along with set-piece coach Gianni Vio, whose contract has not been renewed after he was drafted in during Thomas Christiansen’s short reign. Heckingbottom, informed of his departure by director of football Victor Orta, is due to fly back to Yorkshire today.
His next career move will be intriguing.
So, too, is United’s interest in Bielsa.
A mentor to both Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino, the 62-year-old is best known for his time in charge of the Argentina and Chile national teams.
But his influence – the likes of Diego Simeone and current Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli also count themselves as disciples of Bielsa – stretches much further than winning the 2004 Olympics or a club career that includes reaching the Europa League final.
Dubbed ‘El Loco’ – the crazy one – in his native South America, Bielsa can be unpredictable and volatile. He once resigned at Lazio after just two days and then walked out on Marseille one game into his second season.
But Guardiola, Pochettino et al talk of a hugely innovative coach, who is meticulous in his planning and capable of driving a club forward with his own forceful personality.
Little is left to chance, Bielsa understood to have begun his reign at Marseille in the summer of 2014 by watching every match from the previous season on DVD a staggering 13 times.
“It is important for me to say this about Marcelo because it doesn’t matter how many titles he had in his career,” said Guardiola in February, 2017.
“We are judged by that – how much success we have, how many titles we have won. But that is much less influential than how he has influenced football and his football players. That is why, for me, he is the best coach in the world.”
Bielsa advocates attacking football, his preferred 3-3-3-1 formation designed to put pressure on the opposition by pressing far up the pitch.
He led Athletic Bilbao to the Europa League final in 2012 – beating Manchester United en route – along with the Copa Del Rey final but lost both games.
The Argentinian’s last job was in France with Lille, who he left in December after just four months at the helm. Bielsa’s time may have ended abruptly but he had clearly lost none of his liking for innovation, as the Lille players found out in a pre-season that began in mid-June and included living together in 20 bungalows that Bielsa had specifically had built.
He left in December with Lille in relegation trouble, a month after being suspended by the French club over poor results.