Heckingbottom described Barnsley’s response to his shock departure from Oakwell in February as “bang out of order” and accused the club of trying to “save face” after he left for Leeds within days of finalising a new contract.
United appointed Heckingbottom on an 18-month deal on February 6, 48 hours after sacking Thomas Christiansen and less than a week after Heckingbottom and Barnsley announced a new one-year rolling contract on improved terms.
The agreement included a Â£500,000 released clause which Leeds rapidly activated, leaving Barnsley powerless to prevent his departure. Barnsley declared themselves “shocked and thoroughly disappointed”, saying they had “worked tirelessly” to land Heckingbottom’s targets in the January transfer window.
Heckingbottom, however, was known to be frustrated with the recruitment strategy at Oakwell and insisted he had shown ambition by leaving for Leeds, despite walking out on the club he supported as a youngster and represented as a player, academy coach, assistant boss and manager.
“I didn’t speak about it too much then and I’m not going to speak about it too much now but it was bang out of order some of the things they said,” Heckingbottom said. “They know that but they just wanted to save face I suppose.
“It upset me. Usually I don’t pay attention to social media or what’s written, things like that, but it affects your family in a negative way. You get trouble caused by people trying to protect themselves and not being big enough or brave enough to just admit what’s gone on. That was disappointing but it doesn’t bother me now.”
Heckingbottom won the League One play-off final and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy during the initial stages of his spell as Barnsley’s manager having stepped into the role after Lee Johnson quit the post to take charge of Bristol City in 2016.
He spent exactly two years in the job before Leeds asked him to succeed Christiansen, who was sacked at Elland Road after 35 games.
“It’s the same as when you play in this game,” Heckingbottom said. “People kid themselves and I hear some really foolish things.
“Every club wants winners and to do that you’ve got to have drive and ambition. I’d be the first to criticise people who just get comfy and are happy to be there, not adding any value or wanting to get better.
“That was me. I could have stayed where I was in a minor coaching role, being at a club who I supported and helping and playing my own little part, but before long I realised I wanted more than that.
“You have to push yourself and you can’t have it both ways. You can’t want people who are going to push and drive people to be better at your club and then be upset when all of a sudden they push beyond it. In my time there we saw it with players and we saw it with managers. It just happened again.”
Barnsley were a place above the Championship’s relegation when Heckingbottom left but his spell in charge of United has been fraught, yielding two wins from 13 matches. The 40-year-old was force to confront speculation about his future last week amid claims that United owner Andrea Radrizzani was poised to sack him at the end of this season.
Heckingbottom admitted that a win over Barnsley was badly needed this weekend. “Yeah, 100 per cent,” he said. “We keep saying it over and over again.
“The worst and best bit about football is the Saturdays. You can’t recreate that feeling. The highs are really good and the defeats hurt. That’s the tough part of the job, keeping perspective. It’s not nice. A win cheers everyone up but even then you have to be boring about that. It’s only one win and then we’re onto the next one.”