Paul Heckingbottom reveals the emotional challenges Chris Wilder's departure has created at Sheffield United
Paul Heckingbottom revealed the emotional toll Chris Wilder’s departure has taken on Sheffield United’s players after watching them make a chaotic start to life without their former manager.
Heckingbottom’s first match in caretaker charge of the Premier League’s bottom club ended in a 5-0 defeat at the home of former champions Leicester City less than 24 hours after Wilder’s exit was officially confirmed by Bramall Lane’s hierarchy.
Previously United’s under-23’s coach, Heckingbottom enjoyed spells in charge of Barnsley, Leeds United and Hibernian before returning to South Yorkshire at Wilder’s behest as part of a restructuring exercise in July.
Acknowledging both the timing and the manner of the 53-year-old’s departure has caused a great deal of upset behind the scenes - despite being described as “by mutual consent”, Wilder is known to have disagreed with United’s owners about a number of issues including recruitment policy - Heckingbottom said: “It’s not easy. It’s not a nice situation. From a purely personal point of view, I came to work with Chris, I came here to work for him. The same, obviously, goes for a lot of the lads who were out there too. It was a very emotional dressing room in there afterwards, for reasons you can probably guess. I’m not going to go into the details, but he was the leader for those lads on a daily basis and now that’s ended.”
“It’s difficult for me too, because Chris isn’t just someone I respect greatly, he’s also a mate,” Heckingbottom continued. “The fact I’ve been in Chris’ shoes before, the fact I’ve been in the players’ shoes before, the fact I know what they’ll be thinking and how they’ll be feeling, that will help me deal with it because I understand it. Hopefully that will stand me in good stead.”
Despite insisting events during the build-up to the game had affected United’s performance, Heckingbottom warned “it would be wrong to make excuses” if there is a repeat when they face Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-finals this weekend.
With Wilder’s former assistant Alan Knill remaining on staff for the time being at least - a situation Heckingbottom would “love to see” continue - former AFC Bournemouth manager Jason Tindall is also set to begin working with United’s squad today after being appointed as number two, initially on a short term basis.
Confirming he spoke with Wilder, who twice led United to promotion, before making the trip to the east Midlands, Heckingbottom said: “I’ve seen how well those boys have been doing under Chris - okay, you can say this season hasn’t gone well but overall they’ve been brilliant - and you can see the emotion because of what’s happened suddenly made this game even bigger than it was. I don’t think you can ignore that, and it wasn’t nice to watch.
“I spoke with Chris on the phone and I spoke with him in person as well. As you can imagine, he wants everyone to do well because it’s his football club. And it’s one he still feels a lot of pride and responsibility for.”