ANYONE who happened to be a regular at Paul Heckingbottom’s pre-match press conferences during his time at boyhood club Barnsley would have quickly ascertained two things.
One – and slightly inconsequentially – Leeds United’s latest head coach likes strong, ground coffee in a morning. Kenyan, Colombian, you name it. No Mellow Bird’s or ‘supermarket’s finest’.
Two, and slightly more pertinently, Heckingbottom likes discipline, punctuality and order. And his players certainly know where they stand with him.
Many a time this particular reporter has attended his gatherings at Oakwell in the East Stand and after he has finished his section of the press conference, usually at around 9.45am, he has reminded his press team that the player who follows must be back for the start of training at the club’s nearby training facilities by 10am prompt. Or else. Work is work.
The look in Heckingbottom’s eyes and the shortness of his relayed message always suggested that his word went.
Humorously, it was a close-run thing for one or two players at times. On several occasions, you would see them manically sprinting around Oakwell’s perimeter to meet that deadline.
It is a tough gig, but one that Heckingbottom, who has an innate authority which in many ways belies his tender years, is ready for.Leon Wobschall
Heckingbottom, 40, may be comparatively young in managerial terms, but clearly retains old-fashioned ‘gaffer’ credentials. He’s the boss and not afraid of making big calls and being ruthless when it demands.
Ask Angus MacDonald. Barnsley’s captain – now at Hull – who was bombed from Heckingbottom’s plans and never seen again after being brought off at half-time in the 3-0 loss at Reading on November 28.
Heckingbottom is one who clearly has no favourites too. He possesses high, demanding standards and won’t shy away from acting when necessary.
But whereas he was rather more bombproof at Oakwell, where he has always retained a big place in the affections of Barnsley’s support – his people – Heckingbottom will be sage enough to realise that he will not have that same luxury at Leeds.
At Barnsley, he was always Hecky. Even after just one victory in his past 16 games, it was still ‘Hecky’ and he could still count on the unstinting backing of most of the club’s fanbase, who look at him reverentially for his role in Reds’ fairytale of 2015-16, backed up by events of last season. A Royston lad, who was one ‘of their own’.
At Leeds, there is no Hecky. Only Heckingbottom.
He took on the Barnsley baton two years to the day he joined Leeds, with the Reds having just booked a Wembley appearance after clinching a final spot in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy before Lee Johnson’s exit to Bristol City.
After a desperate early winter, the Reds were unbeaten in eight matches when Hecky first took charge for the home game with Bury, which Barnsley won 3-0. They never lost their mojo, claimed a Wembley promotion and cup double and the momentum carried well into the next season.
The correlation which greets him at Leeds is stark. Instead of a team boasting an eight-match unbeaten stint, he finds one struggling for answers and defensively porous after no wins in seven games.
Heckingbottom knows what he wants and when – that is clear from those Thursday and Monday mornings at Oakwell. Leeds players better be listening.
It is a tough gig, but one that Heckingbottom, who has an innate authority which in many ways belies his tender years, is ready for.