Man of steel Paul Heckingbottom has work cut out to impress the Sheffield United faithful

PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM got used to multi-tasking in his time in charge at hometown side Barnsley and quickly learned to appreciate the demands of leading a big club in his brief stint over the West Yorkshire border at Leeds United.

Those dual experiences should serve him well in his new role at Sheffield United where his remit as manager will see him coordinate football operations at Bramall Lane. It’s a fair-sized gig.

Heckingbottom’s name is not a box-office one to set the pulses racing among Unitedites after their time in the sun under Chris Wilder and brisk dalliance with a two-time Championship promotion winner in Slavisa Jokanovic,

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But closer inspection of his credentials commands further inspection and respect.

Back in charge: Paul Heckingbottom has stepped up to replace Slavis Jokanovic as manager of Sheffield United. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

United are between eras with Wilder’s glorious high-achieving brigade of 2016-20 now expected to be gradually dismantled – with departures likely in January.

Big names will leave and a new group must emerge and the Blades will clearly not be throwing pots of cash at it either and must be prudent in the market.

It is a scenario that Heckingbottom encountered at Barnsley from early 2016 to February 2018 where there was a fair squad turnover in his time in charge.

The likes of Alfie Mawson, Sam Winnall, Marc Roberts, James Bree, Marley Watkins and Blades loanee Conor Hourihane – who knows United’s new ‘gaffer’ better than anyone from their successful time together at Oakwell where he was captain – left.

Moving on: Slavisa Jokanovic oversaw Blades' 1-0 win at Reading on Tuesday evening - but it proved to be his last match in charge of Sheffield United. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Alex Mowatt, Ethan Pinnock and Liam Lindsay were among the successes brought in, while a notable loan signing during his time there was a current United forward in Oli McBurnie.

Heckingbottom’s main responsibility may have been with the first-team at Oakwell, but he oversaw many other aspects of the club and was heavily involved in recruitment in particular.

On the pitch, his time in charge was most famous for dual successes at Wembley in the space of 57 Spring days in the Johnstone’s Paints Trophy and League One play-off finals of 2016.

Taking on a number of roles and responsibilities in a spell in charge which Heckingbottom admitted to being all-consuming – and certainly not easy and straightforward at times with Barnsley hardly blessed with a phalanx of backroom staff like most Championship clubs at that time between 16-18 – helped to broaden his skill-set.

Hot seat: Paul Heckingbottom becomes Blades' third manager of the calendar year after terrace hero Chris Wilder and Jokanovic, with the Barnsley-born boss also having a caretaker spell at the helm in between the latter pair. Picture Bruce Rollinson

They will have also prepared him for his latest venture.

There were tensions and frustrations at Barnsley, as there were at Leeds. While Heckingbottom’s time there was inauspicious, he was vocal behind the scenes about such things as recruitment strategy and staffing levels and not one to be intimidated.

Behind the scenes, he took people on and had arguments, in his own words. Yet he was quick to stress that his relationship with owner Andrea Radrizzani always remained a healthy one.

It was the sign of someone driven, determined and keen to fight his corner and push for change. He would also later admit that his honesty may have hastened his own departure from Leeds.

Heckingbottom undeniably took a knock at Leeds, as he did in his time north of the border with Hibernian.

Edinburgh may not be Scotland’s football capital, with the honour belonging to Glasgow, but the presence of two big clubs in Hibs and Hearts make it an intense and demanding workplace all the same.

Both those experiences will have made Heckingbottom tougher and prepared him for what is in store in another city whose sporting heartbeat surrounds football in Sheffield.

After leaving Hibs, his time out of football before heading to the Blades as under-23s lead coach in the summer of 2020 was used to positive effect. There was no standing still, even in lockdown where the working day was structured and plenty of time was devoted to study.

Heckingbottom has a Masters degree in Sports Coaching and his interests extend beyond football to psychology and business. His skills-set in footballing terms is a thoroughly modern one.

But he also retains more old-fashioned managerial traits. His time at Oakwell was known for discipline, punctuality and order. He can also be ruthless.

Heckingbottom once bombed out ex-Barnsley captain Angus MacDonald after bringing him off at half-time in a 3-0 loss at Reading in November 2017. He never played for the club again and was eventually sold to Hull City.

Clearly, he is someone not to be under-estimated and his character is steely. Which is no bad thing in this part of Yorkshire.

His caretaker spell after Wilder’s exit has at least afforded him some money in the bank; a deposit as opposed to a big instalment.

In his last game in charge on the final day of 2020-21 against Burnley, the Blades avoided the ignominy of becoming the first Premier League side to lose 30 games in a season. It was a small blessing in a grim campaign.

Rather than holding the fort, Heckingbottom is now calling the shots. He will back himself; even if plenty of Unitedites will need some convincing in the weeks and months ahead.