Heckingbottom: I was a victim of ‘change of direction’ at Leeds United

Paul Heckingbottom.
Paul Heckingbottom.
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Paul Heckingbottom has spoken for the first time about his sacking by Leeds United and called on the club to give serious backing to his replacement, Marcelo Bielsa.

In an interview with TalkSport, Heckingbottom said he had been the victim of a “change of direction” at Elland Road after Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani dismissed him after four months and 16 games in charge.

Andrea Radrizzani.

Andrea Radrizzani.

Radrizzani sanctioned a £500,000 compensation payment to buy Heckingbottom out of Barnsley in February but rapidly lost faith in his ability to compete for promotion to the Premier League and confirmed his sacking on June 1.

Leeds had already made overtures to Bielsa by the time Heckingbottom parted company with the club, sounding out the Argentinian in anticipation of a change of head coach.

United agreed to pay Bielsa a salary of more than £2m, well in excess of Heckingbottom’s wage, and brought the charismatic 62-year-old to Elland Road towards the end of June.

Bielsa has been tasked with reviving a squad which finished 13th in the Championship last season and won just four times under Heckingbottom.

Andrea [Radrizzani] went out there and got the man he wanted. I’m the one who suffered from that but hopefully Leeds can benefit, otherwise it will have been a poor decision.

Paul Heckingbottom

Leeds, however, have completed just two signings to date – Chelsea loanees Lewis Baker and Jamal Blackman – and look set to miss out to Derby County in the race to take winger Florian Jozefzoon from Brentford.

“Literally just a change of direction from the club, that was it,” Heckingbottom told Talksport. “Another managerial casualty and I’m the one who suffered from it. A change of mind, they went for an experienced manager known all over the world.

“It’s always the owner’s decision at the end of the day, they’re the most powerful people. Whether you agree with the decisions or not, you have to sort of respect them and live by them.

“Leeds have gone for a different manager and I just hope they back him. He should be saying the same things I was saying and hopefully he gets the backing and support to make changes and give the fans there what they’re crying out for.”

Paul Heckingbottom.

Paul Heckingbottom.

The approach to Bielsa, one of the world’s most respected coaches, was seen as an ambitious move by Leeds and negotiations over a two-year contract took several weeks to complete.

Asked if he was surprised to see Bielsa arrive at Elland Road, Heckingbottom said: “No because that’s the club. That’s what they want, that’s what they’re demanding.

“Andrea went out there and got the man he wanted. I’m the one who suffered from that but hopefully Leeds can benefit, otherwise it will have been a poor decision.

“That’s football. It sounds strange but you have to accept that’s the way it is or you’ll drive yourself crazy. Likewise you have to be determined and driven enough to stay in the game.

“I don’t think it’s right, I’ll be honest, and if fans start accepting that managers come and go willy-nilly all the time, they’re playing their own part in not getting success.”

Heckingbottom was involved in initial discussions about the transfer window at the end of last season and took a young Leeds squad on a controversial tour of Myanmar in May. The former Barnsley boss put forward a list of targets, including Andy Yiadom and Oli McBurnie, but Leeds declined to move for them and Heckingbottom was informed of his departure during a family holiday in Greece.

“The best clubs, or the ones who are going to overachieve, the ones who are going to be able to defy the odds and outcompete everyone else, are the clubs with the best plan, who know how to implement that plan and be really strong in their beliefs,” Heckingbottom said. “Make things happen, rather than making decisions and hoping things are going to happen. Have a real clear pathway and be so bloody minded that they make it happen.

“For me the Championship this season is wide open in terms of no stand-outs. The three teams who’ve come down are going to do really well but if Leeds invest and bring the players in, there’s no reason why (the can’t compete for promotion).”