Heckingbottom replaces Jokanovic to take on 'throwback' manager role
Written by Simon Austin — November 25, 2021
PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM has replaced Slavisa Jokanovic as manager of Sheffield United in what the club has described as a more ‘all-encompassing’ role than that of his predecessor.
Jokanovic was sacked today after less than six months of his three-year contract. The decision came with the Blades lying 16th in the Championship.
Heckingbottom, who took caretaker charge of the club from March to the end of last season following the exit of Chris Wilder, has been promoted from his full-time job as Under-23s manager. His contract is to the end of the 2025/26 season, although Chairman Yusuf Giansiracusa said there was a 'club option' to take it to 2027.
Stuart McCall has left Blackpool, where he was Assistant Head Coach, to become his number two, while Academy Manager Jack Lester has been appointed Head of Player Development as well as strikers coach. Heckingbottom said he would also be appointing one more coach to his staff in due course.
Four of Jokanovic's assistants have also departed the club: Pablo Pérez (Head of Analysis), who only arrived from Valencia in September; and Chema Sanz (first-team coach), Rafa Cristobal (Head of Performance) and Marco Cesarini (Head of Medical), who all arrived with Jokanovic in July.
Giansiracusa said the change of manager had come about because of a redefining of the role of manager following the implementation of a new 'strategic plan.'
“We initially hired Slav as a coach to take us to the EPL," he said. "We believed he was a good choice for that role. However, the season hasn’t progressed as we had hoped as a Board and with the strategic plan in place, nobody in the role of coach and coach only would be an appropriate fit. Paul is the right fit.
"When there are questions and decisions about football, Paul is the one who will respond on behalf of the club. Slav was hired as a coach of the first team. His responsibility was the first team.
"Paul’s responsibilities now are for football, for football development within the club. From a Board perspective, we see Paul as leading our football strategy in all of its directions.
“What we are intending is the title of football manager. Kev has told me that is not English football, that is not a title that any of you are going to be familiar with or perhaps even like.
“My response to Kev was I don’t care, I’m not English and I’m not a football guy. What I am is the Chairman and that gives me certain prerogatives, one of which is to give the title that I think that captures the role we anticipate and have discussed with Paul.”
This was confusing, because manager is obviously an often-used title used in English football and has been for many decades. It was also the title Jokanovic had during his time at the club.
The role often sounded more like that of a Sporting Director than a manager. Heckingbottom is part of Cohort Six on the Masters in Sporting Directorship course at Manchester Metropolitan University, but has no previous experience in that particular job.
The Yorkshireman, who has previously managed Hibernian, Leeds United and Barnsley, added: “It’s not really a new role, it’s just my input is probably a little bit more wide-ranging, across all domains of the football department.
“I might have to relinquish a bit of time and responsibility from the training ground, the bits I really love, but I know this job is going to be slightly different, maybe a bit of a throwback to what people think a football manager’s job should be.
“It’s all encompassing in football if you like. One of the big things in taking on the role I have to be aware of is getting the team around me right. It’s clear to me there’s going to be a lot of responsibility on me so I need to get the team right around me.
“That’s one of the reasons for getting Stuart in as assistant, Jack from the Academy overseeing player development and the strikers, and there will be another coach as well.”
Giansiracusa added that there would be a new focus on development - of both players and staff - at the club, and a sharing of expertise and resources between Sheffield United, LB Châteauroux in France and Beerschot-Wilrijk in Belgium who are all part of the United World Group.
Giansiracusa said Heckingbottom would "also be playing an important role in overall group strategy and implementing our objectives at that level."
Chief Executive Stephen Bettis added that the club were keen to go Category One and also build a new training ground, but that there had been limited progress on either.
“There’s been in the last month some really good discussions with the Council around some potential opportunities, he said. “We are aware of our desire to improve the facilities, go Cat One, that’s all limited by space.
“We need more space, which is not easy within the catchment we want to be.”
On the club’s finances, he added: “Whatever happens the club is in a position where it will remain sustainable going forward.”
Other things to note:
- There has been no announcement on who will replace Lester as Academy Manager - or whether there will be a replacement; nor on who will replace Heckingbottom as U23s boss.
- Giansiracusa, who as well as being Chairman of Sheffield United is Vice Chairman of Beerschot and on the Board of Châteauroux, said: "I’m not a football guy and I don’t pretend to be, but as Chairman it is my job to gather round me the best people I can. If I want football expertise I go to somebody who knows football. We think Paul and his team brings expertise and they will be the ones the board will be listening to."