Paul Heckingbottom ‘flattered’ to be in frame for Blades job on permanent basis

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Sean Taylor, PA
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Paul Heckingbottom admits it is “flattering” to be considered as a potential candidate to be Sheffield United’s next manager.

But the interim boss, who is in charge until the end of the season, insists nothing has changed as regards how he will approach the job during what remains of the campaign.

Heckingbottom stepped up from his role as the club’s under-23 coach following Chris Wilder’s departure on the eve of the Premier League game against Leicester in March.

The Blades hierarchy have been looking for a new manager since and chief executive Stephen Bettis this week confirmed Heckingbottom was on a five-man shortlist for the permanent job, having impressed with how he has handled things under difficult circumstances, which have included overseeing the club’s inevitable relegation.

Former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian boss Heckingbottom said: “It was flattering to see that and it’s flattering to be on that list, but it is business as usual for me, nothing has changed.

“Something official may have come out in terms of a statement, but, in terms of my approach and how we are approaching the games, nothing has changed.

“I’m just going to give my all, and so are the players and staff, to make sure we are all pulling in the right direction and try to get the feeling a little bit different before we break up.

“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 were really clear and open before I stepped up to be interim (manager) in terms of, I will give it my best and do it for as long as it needs to be done. I see it as part of my job and duty to do it for the club, but I was brought here to work with the under-23s so, as I say, nothing has changed and until there is a different conversation nothing has changed one little bit.”

Asked if he now saw the remaining five matches as an audition for the job in light of Bettis’ 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.

“My role has got to be just focusing on the job right now. I’m lucky in terms of I was able to step up without it affecting my role going forward, as the club know I was really enjoying that and we were having a lot of success. I’m lucky really, I can’t lose.”

The first of the Blades’ remaining games is away at Tottenham on Sunday and Heckingbottom revealed that Sander Berge will make his long-awaited return to the squad.

The Norway midfielder has been out since mid-December with a hamstring injury.

“I’ll include Sander in the squad,” said Heckingbottom. “He’s had plenty of training days with us now and got stronger and he feels more confident every day and the medical team are happy to sign him off and sign him over to us.

“Everyone has worked hard with him, the medical team and the coaching staff, and we will look to integrate him into the squad now.

“It was a serious injury out of nothing, so he will be delighted and the medical team will be delighted, and the rest of the players and staff are, as well as the fans.

“Everyone is looking forward to having him back, first and foremost for him, because he has had to work hard.”