Sheffield United v Brighton - Club needs short-term fix for long-term stability says Paul Heckingbottom

Yo-yoing is not a Sheffield United trait but now Premier League relegation is confirmed, the thinking is about how they can get back in 12 months’ time.

Three years, from 1968 to 1971, is the quickest they have returned to the top division but with the financial gulf now between the Premier League and the rest, taking time is risky.

In planning a post-Chris Wilder future, the Blades must think short-term but not only short-term, stresses interim manager Paul Heckingbottom. The work starts at home to Brighton and Hove Albion this evening.

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“We have to learn from mistakes,” he says of previous spells out of the division – the last of which saw them drop into League One during a 12-season absence.

Planning ahead: Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom. Picture: Geoff Caddick/PA Wire.

“We have to identify what worked really well – the environment, the hunger of the first-team group and the style of play the fans could connect with. If we can recognise that and articulate that you can start recruit off the back of it. Have to do it.

“Longer-term, the club have to create a real hungry group of young players who have the potential to push beyond what’s already the first-team group.”

The job Heckingbottom was previously doing and plans to return to next season was managing the under-23s.

“There are good, strong players there, and in the under-18s and under-16s,” he says. “I’m confident in the next two or three years we’ll produce a lot of league footballers, whatever level that is.

Going nowhere: Paul Heckingbottom is sure midfielder Sander Berge will stay at Bramall Lane. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

“You have to have a pathway or what’s the point of having an academy? But the players have to be good enough. When a player’s knocking on that door and we know he’s ready, don’t recruit anyone above him to block his path.”

All three sides relegated last season are pushing for promotion this, with Norwich City’s secured and Watford’s close.

“Norwich, Watford, Bournemouth kept the bulk of the group together, sold one or two key positions but they may have sold them because they know what’s beneath or they’ve already got a replacement,” says Heckingbottom. “The ones you can’t replace, their internal value is a lot more important to you so keep them.

“There’s your lessons.”

Sander Berge is the Blades’ most valuable player, but Heckingbottom dodged the question of whether he wants to stay.

“All Sander’s bothered about right now is getting fit and back in the team,” he says. “(His future) will be out of my hands, maybe out of the club’s hands, maybe Sander’s, but I’m certainly expecting him to be (here).”

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