Tottenham Hotspur v Sheffield United - Paul Heckingbottom ‘flattered’ to be added to managerial shortlist

Paul Heckingbottom views his future employment with Sheffield United as a ‘can’t lose’ situation after being announced as one of five names on the shortlist to be named the Blades’ next permanent manager.

Heckingbottom stepped up from his position as Under-23s boss to interim manager seven weeks ago in the wake of Chris Wilder’s acrimonious departure.

Four days after he got his first victory in charge of the first team – last Saturday’s 1-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion – Heckingbottom was name-checked in a release on the club’s website by chief executive officer Stephen Bettis as being on their shortlist.

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“It was flattering,” admitted Heckingbottom, but there was a determination in yesterday’s pre-match media briefing for tomorrow night’s game with Tottenham Hotspur not to overplay his hand.

No lose situation: Sheffield United interim manager Paul Heckingbottom. Picture: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
No lose situation: Sheffield United interim manager Paul Heckingbottom. Picture: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“It’s business as usual for me though, nothing has changed.

“In terms of my approach, how we approach the games until the end of the season, nothing will change, I’m just going to give my all for the players and staff to make sure we’re all pulling in the same direction.

“I keep saying it – next season is going to be a really important season and one where we need to start positively, so anything I can do in the short term to help out I am going to do it.

“We had real clarity before I stepped up regarding what it looked like for me in terms of helping the club and players but also that nothing affected my position at the club.

Rookie: Former Hull City midfielder Ryan Mason is the current Tottenham Hotspur interim manager. Picture: Clive Rose/PA Wire.

“I am lucky really, I can’t lose.”

Asked if he now saw the remaining five matches as an audition for the job in light of Bettis’s comments, Heckingbottom replied: “No, not at all.

“It’s more a comment for everyone else, isn’t it? To show the direction of the club and the process. Nothing changes for us, I just think it’s important the club provides that sort of clarity for the fans, so that everyone understands that there is work going on behind the scenes and they are doing as much as they possibly can to make the right decisions.”

So do we take from that then that Heckingbottom would be happy to retreat to the Under-23s and let a different person come in and set about the task of reinvigorating a club that until football went behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, was as upwardly mobile as any in the land?

In the frame: Sheffield United have a list of five candidates to replace former manager Chris Wilder. Picture: Oli Scarff/PA Wire.

Don’t bet on it. Ever since Heckingbottom took charge of Barnsley in an interim capacity five years ago, he has been determined to make it as a manager.

His quick success at Oakwell helped realise the potential to manage Leeds United, and when that didn’t last long, he was happy to move north of the border to take charge of Hibernian.

Taking the Blades Under-23s job last July got him back into football and in pole position to succeed Wilder if ever things turned south, which they did so rapidly in the 2020-21 campaign.

For an out-of-work manager there is no better interview than on-the-job experience, which he is gaining right now at Bramall Lane.

“I’m not thinking about that at all,” he insisted. “My role’s got to be focusing on the job right now, working with the players.

“We were really clear and open when I stepped up to interim that I would give it my best.

“Nothing has changed until there’s a different conversation.”

A win at Tottenham, to give United back-to-back victories in the Premier League for the first time since July would enhance his credentials further.

Spurs are certainly not the force they once were, and like the Blades have an interim manager in charge in the wake of Jose Mourinho’s dismissal 12 days ago.

Unlike Heckingbottom who is in charge of his fourth club, tomorrow evening’s Premier League fixture is only former Hull City midfielder Ryan Mason’s third game as interim manager, one that has seen him thrown in amid a supporter storm over Tottenham’s part in the threatened European Super League breakaway and a Carabao Cup final, which they lost to Manchester City.

“Every situation is different,” admitted Heckingbottom.

“I remember doing it for the first time at Barnsley. Football doesn’t change, but every time you do something for the first time it’s a different feel than when you do it again, it’s different because you learn from the last time, so I can understand his feelings now having stepped up for the first time, but certainly it’s a fantastic experience for him.”

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