Paul Heckingbottom‘s performance as Head Coach in the first few days since his whirlwind move from Barnsley to Leeds United could hardly have gone better.
Of course he’s only been talking the talk so far; the serious stuff, the walking of the walk, started on Saturday, high noon at Bramall Lane, with a Yorkshire derby against Sheffield United. Still, in advance of that baptism of fire, the new Leeds boss has excelled as he set out his stall to players, press and fans.
Let’s be in no doubt: for a Royston lad who grew up as a Barnsley fan hating Leeds United, Paul gets what our club is all about. His emphasis on qualities such as consistency, aggression and intensity could be taken from page one of any United fanatic’s Leeds-supporting handbook. These are the ideals we hold dear, the characteristics we love and expect to be hated for. Without these principles, forged through blood, sweat and tears, there would be no modern Leeds United. They’re written into the DNA of the club – and now we have a man who appears to have the same list of attributes carved upon his heart. It’s no mealy-mouthed recitation of what he knows we want to hear, either. The qualities espoused by Heckingbottom don’t fall from his mouth like lazy platitudes, but as the solid structure behind his footballing philosophy. Aggression, with and without the ball. Consistency, the golden key to league success. Intensity, the way to the fans’ collective heart. These are the ingredients of success for what is a talented squad. How long it will take to establish such a pattern is another matter entirely.
For the time being, though, the business of showing us all exactly what we’ve got in Heckingbottom is well under way. And there’s a disarming manner about the man; when asked about the pressure of working at what is perceived as a sack-happy club, he relates to us the anecdote of how he tells his kids not to worry about Dad losing his job as, if he does, they’ll all be going on holiday. Even that childhood hatred of United, made so much of in certain quarters, is understandable the way he puts it; having seven shades kicked out of you by bigger, older Leeds fans, while playing football in the field behind your Mam’s house, is not calculated to endear a young lad to that lot up the M1. Now, those same Leeds fans are ringing to wish him success at Elland Road. It’s gone full circle, and – so far, at any rate – it feels right. I’ve certainly not heard a better Leeds United philosophy since those early, heady days of Sergeant Wilko, who breezed into a troubled Elland Road from South Yorkshire thirty years ago and did really quite well. As a precedent, the Wilko example is not a bad one for Heckingbottom to emulate, though he appears happily to be very much his own man. But there’s the same air of confidence and self-assurance about him, the same quiet conviction that his way is the right way.
The sadness that accompanied the departure of Thomas Christiansen, a genuinely nice guy, has barely begun to dissipate. But in football, you always look forward, even when making comparisons with former Leeds legends.
In Hecky, a coach who sets so much store by “getting on the grass” to work with his players, we could finally have a round peg for the round hole that is Elland Road. This is a bloke who’d been doing too much at Barnsley of the administrative stuff he didn’t really want to be doing – now he has the chance, in this Leeds United structure, of concentrating on what he does best.
It should work well; let’s all get behind the guy in the fervent hope that it will.