Norwich City v Leeds United: Myanmar is a distraction Heckingbottom could do without

Leeds United head coach Paul Heckingbottom, whose squad are due to play two friendlies in Myanmar next month.Leeds United head coach Paul Heckingbottom, whose squad are due to play two friendlies in Myanmar next month.
Leeds United head coach Paul Heckingbottom, whose squad are due to play two friendlies in Myanmar next month.
HEAD COACH Paul Heckingbottom has learned quickly that Leeds United is like few other clubs.

Not for the first time in recent years, the Elland Road agenda this week has been dominated by off-field events. Next month’s planned tour to Myanmar – formerly Burma – a country whose government have faced accusations of genocide and human rights abuses against minority groups, has brought a storm of criticism United’s way.

It left Heckingbottom, like so many of his predecessors in the role, having to field questions on a decision or subject that has had little input from him.

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“All these things are distractions for me and irritate the life out of me,” said the former defender, echoing the thoughts of those who have faced similar questioning on all manner of topics from potential takeovers through to owner bans and points deductions.

“I have sat in plenty of these press conferences and talked about anything but what we should be talking about, the football. That is something I want to change.

“It takes away from what we are trying to do. My emphasis is on the football. We will always be judged on what we do on the pitch. I want the focus to be on football and every attention is on the football.”

What does not help keep the focus on the football, of course, is that much of the football at Leeds over the past few years has been non-descript. It has also paled into insignificance alongside the antics of Massimo Cellino or, as has been the case in recent days, the latest PR own goal.

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Heckingbottom’s task is to change all that. In that respect the summer will be pivotal with the squad he inherited from Thomas Christiansen clearly not good enough.

An exception to that rule has been Pablo Hernandez, who thanks to the collapse in form suffered by Samuel Saiz in recent months has to be a shoo-in as the club’s Player of the Year.

The Spaniard brought some welcome cheer to supporters this week by agreeing a new two-year contract.

Heckingbottom added: “I have been asked a lot of questions about Pablo, mainly because he has been out of contract and one of our top performers.

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“Lots of teams wanted him and he would have been a great addition to any squad, so we are delighted to keep him.

“Pablo wants to be part of something. Not a player chasing money, he wants to be somewhere he is wanted.

“He is one of the fittest players and a good role model. We want to use his enthusiasm off the pitch, maybe give him a bit more responsibility in that respect. It is something I have spoken to him about.”

As Leeds head to Norwich today, Heckingbottom’s former club Barnsley could be relegated.

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“I didn’t take any joy from taking points off them and making their job to stay up harder,” he said when asked about last week’s 2-1 triumph. “No joy at all. My job was to win the game. I am not one of those to hold a grudge or want to see other people fail.”