New Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom won’t be writing-off Premier League promotion goal

Paul Heckingbottom’s new role at Sheffield United will be more of an old one but despite a wider brief, he knows he will be judged as Slavisa Jokanovic was – on getting the Blades back to the Premier League.

Heckingbottom believes he can do it this season even though he is unlikely to have the influx of mid-term signings his predecessor was angling for.

Jokanovic was sacked as head coach yesterday and replaced with what the Blades are calling a “football manager”.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Having seen their relationship with Chris Wilder break down this year partly because of his frustrations over the lack of control as manager, chairman Yusuf Giansiracusa explained he gave Jokanovic a three-year contract as head coach whilst the club worked on a strategic plan.

All-powerful: New Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom will be in charge of the entire football operation.Picture: Simon Bellis/sportimage

The upshot of it is that in an era where clubs increasingly look to lighten loads and share responsibilities, the Blades are giving Heckingbottom the all-encompassing powers over the entire football operation common in the English game when clubs were much smaller organisations.

Heckingbottom has a contract until 2027, with the club having the option of extending by a year. He expects what he does to be similar to when he managed Barnsley and Leeds United.

“Maybe I’ll just be listened to a bit more,” said Heckingbottom, caretaker manager for the final 11 matches of last season.

“I’m not approaching it any differently other than there will be more conversations up and down the chain. If you speak to any owner, any manager, when things start to go wrong, a lot of it’s a lack of communication. Within this role there’s an in-built need for communication all the time about all different aspects.

Man of steel: Sheffield United CEO Stephen Bettis, Paul Heckingbottom, chairman Yusuf Giansiracusa and director Abdullah at Heckingbottom's unveiling. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“The football side will be approached the same way – try and win on a Saturday and a Tuesday, try and develop players and work with the staff.”

Heckingbottom, who managed the under-23s either side of his caretaker stint, insists he will not be pulled away from the first team to deal with the other areas he has responsibility for.

“My job is first team,” he stressed, slightly contradicting his billing. “I can make sure the pathway (from the academy) is clear in terms of opportunity but that’s all it will be, the players have to take that opportunity.

“There will be good communication from myself and Jack (Lester) down to the academy, an integration of staff up and down the chain and the sharing of information but that’s as far as my role goes with the academy.”

On his way: Former Blades manager Slavisa Jokanovic. Picture: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Heckingbottom, who has undergraduate and masters degrees in sports coaching from Leeds Beckett University and began a doctor of professional practice in sport there in 2019, appointed his former Bradford City manager Stuart McCall as his assistant, and promoted Lester from the academy. A third, as-yet unidentified coach, will be added but the 44-year-old says there is no rush.

“I’ve maybe been guilty in my past roles of doing too much and not delegating enough,” he admitted. “There’s certain things they do much better than me. ”

Jokanovic was sacked with the Blades 16th in the Championship, winning eight and losing eight of his 22 games in all competitions.

The Serb suffered a Covid-disrupted pre-season and did not get the signings he wanted, with Aaron Ramsdale sold but the only arrivals were four loanees and free agent Adlene Guedioura. Jokanovic explained last week he wanted three January signings but Heckingbottom’s focus is likely to be on outgoings.

He insists he has not given up on promotion, though.

“I’m not writing this season off,” he said. “Sometimes the problem’s unmotivated players. Sometimes it’s more important to get players out than in.

“I believe in this group of players but there’s going to be players fall by the wayside and that opens the door for someone else.

“Just like when I took over last time, a lot of the problems weren’t football – there was a mindset, a lack of confidence and faith in everything and everyone and I think it’s a hangover, pure and simple. We need to change that and I honestly believe that’s achievable this season.

“A manager would say that but I’ve got the added bonus of having worked with them. If I thought these players were nowhere near, why would I say these things?”

If it smacks of a club drastically cutting costs, director Abdullah Alghamdi put up a defence.

“In the last four seasons two were in the Championship and two in the Premier League, ” he explained.

“We got around £237m from TV in four seasons.

“We invested £430m – £130m in transfers, plus £200m in first team (contracts). We renewed almost everyone we wanted. We invested more than £50m on acquiring the facility.

“We will invest more because the club is growing, the staff is growing and the level of the players too. We need a plan for that.”

It revolves around Heckingbottom, whose first game is at home to Bristol City on Sunday.