Paul Heckinbottom challenge to Sheffield United’s ‘Jack of all Blades’

PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM has challenged Ben Osborn to become a “master” of one position at Sheffield United, rather than fall into the trap he did of being a Jack of all trades.

Ben Osborn of Sheffield Utd. Picture:: Darren Staples/Sportimage
Ben Osborn of Sheffield Utd. Picture:: Darren Staples/Sportimage

For much of his first season at Bramall Lane, Osborn was almost incidental to the Blades squad, having only made a few brief cameos from the bench and cup starts this time last year.

He was signed from Nottingham Forest mainly to provide competition at left wing-back, but found Enda Stevens to be an immovable object. It was only after the restart that injuries catching up on John Fleck and John Lundstram opened opportunities for him in central midfield.

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His energy and ability have impressed since.

Paul Heckingbottom interim manager of Sheffield Utd. Picture: Darren Staples/Sportimage

This season Osborn has made 23 Premier League appearances without establishing himself as a regular first choice, starting 16 times. At times his versatility has not helped, being used at wing-back, in midfield and lately on the left-hand side of a front three after interim manager Heckingbottom tweaked his formation in recent matches.

Next season threatens to be a big one for Osborn, who turns 27 days before it starts.

The drop down to the Championship and the departure of players such as the out-of-contract John Lundstram and most likely Sander Berge giving him the chance to stamp his authority.

“Myself and Ben had this conversation,” revealed Heckingbottom when asked what Osborn’s best position is. “Ben wants to play, he’ll play anywhere and he was like that at Forest as well.

“On Wednesday (when the Blades were beaten 1-0 at Newcastle United) his best position was on the left of a front three but if he nails down wing-back, he’ll play wing-back, if he’s better than one of the midfield three he’ll play in midfield but it’d be really good if he can become that.

“His attitude and his energy is something that every team needs.

“What he want to guard against, and whilst he wants to play in every game, we want to make sure he becomes a master in one position rather than someone who’s going to accommodate any position if someone drops out.”

Heckingbottom can draw on his experience from a playing career which took in the likes of Bradford City, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley, Harrogate Town and Scarborough. He was mainly used as a left-back, but cropped up in other roles too.

“I suffered from it myself, I ended up playing a lot of positions but I’d play wherever,” he said.

“For younger players it’s good to experience lots of different positions but once they become a professional player there needs to be clarity.

“As a first-team player you give them the detail to nail down a position.

“Ozzy could if he wanted say, ‘No, Hecky, I want to play here,’ and compete against somebody directly but he wants to play in the team and I want to use him.

“That’s the most important thing, someone who wants to play in the team.”

In his time in the Premier League manager Chris Wilder was stubborn in his use of a 3-5-2 formation which brought him so much success in 2019-20, despite often changing it during matches to chase results.

It was surprising when Heckingbottom replaced him in March that he did not do more sooner to change a losing formula, sticking largely to the same personnel and shape.

More recently, though, he has sent the team out in a 3-4-3 and at times they have looked better for it.

“I think Wolves was the first game we did it and we were pleased and it worked against Brighton (his first win),” said Heckingbottom.

“I just like to get more bodies ahead of the ball to try and create these goalscoring opportunities which are difficult to come by in the Premier League.”

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