PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM insists the management set-up at Leeds United was a big factor in his decision to leave Barnsley and take charge of the Elland Road club.
The 40-year-old took training for the first time yesterday after agreeing an 18-month contract to become Thomas Christiansen’s successor.
United turned to Heckingbottom, whose decision to move up the M1 has left Barnsley distinctly unhappy, after a six-game winless run saw the West Riding club slip to tenth in the Championship, seven points adrift of the top six.
His first game at the helm will be Saturday’s Yorkshire derby with Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
“I can’t wait to get started,” said the new Leeds manager, who had previously turned down the chance to manage Sunderland and Nottingham Forest. “It is a big opportunity, a big football club and something you work hard for. I am planning to make the most of it.
“There are some really big fixtures coming up, which are going to define the season.”
Heckingbottom’s departure just a few days after signing a new one-year rolling contract left Barnsley’s new owners distinctly unhappy.
Under-23s coach Paul Harsley has been put in caretaker charge of the Reds ahead of the weekend derby clash with Sheffield Wednesday after assistant manager Jamie Clapham, head of sports science Nathan Winder and analyst Alex Bailey followed Heckingbottom to Leeds.
The search for a successor is underway – ex-Leeds boss Simon Grayson is understood to be on Barnsley’s radar – with chief executive Gauthier Ganaye adamant they will bounce back from a turn of events that, an official statement said, left the club “shocked” and “disappointed”.
“It was unexpected,” added Ganaye. “Yes, it has come during an already complicated period. Yes, it will make things more difficult short term, but our club is full of resources and it is certainly not dependent on one man alone.”
It is a big opportunity, a big football club and something you work hard for. I am planning to make the most of it.Leeds United head coach, Paul Heckingbottom
Barnsley, taken over in December by a consortium headed by Chinese billionaire Chien Lee, sit just one place above the relegation zone after winning only one of their last 15 league outings. The Reds’ hierarchy, however, hope a January transfer window that brought six new faces, including three in the final half-hour, can help steer the club to safety.
Barnsley’s official statement read: “The club are shocked at Paul Heckingbottom’s desire to leave, with him having agreed a new contract with Barnsley FC last week following the completion of the January transfer window, where the board of directors worked tirelessly along with Paul to secure their targets, resulting in a successful window.
“This left the club optimistic of a turnaround in form and a strong end to the 2017-18 campaign as we battle to retain our position in the league.”
Heckingbottom’s exit was confirmed on the second anniversary of him succeeding Lee Johnson, initially on a temporary basis.
During those two years, he spoke of having to “spread himself too thin” at times due to being involved in trying to get signings over the line.
The management structure at Leeds, where director of football Victor Orta leads the recruitment process, has come under scrutiny amid their poor run of form and a struggle by most of the summer signings to make a serious impact. Heckingbottom, however, believes the set-up will suit him.
United’s new head coach added: “When I spoke to Victor and the owner (Andrea Radrizzani), it really aligned with what I was thinking and how I would like to work.
“I presume that is the reason they thought I was the right man for the job. I am aligned with how they like to work and hopefully that will be good for us going forward.”