Paul Heckingbottom is preparing for “difficult and honest conversations” with Leeds United’s hierarchy amid a fight to turn public opinion in his favour and strengthen his hold on the head coach’s job.
Speaking ahead of the club’s last game of the season, Heckingbottom voiced disappointment with his initial impact at Elland Road and admitted he understood scepticism of him amongst United’s support with a poor Championship term limping to a finish.
Heckingbottom will take charge of his 16th game as Leeds boss at home to Queens Park Rangers on Sunday but speculation about his future has been rife for the past month following his failure to consistently improve the club’s results or performances.
The 40-year-old has a contract to the end of next season and insisted again that he expected to remain in charge but Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani, who sacked Thomas Christiansen in February after 35 matches as head coach, is yet to publicly clarify Heckingbottom’s position.
A 3-1 defeat to Preston North End on April 10 prompted reports that the former Barnsley boss would be replaced by Radrizzani at the end of the season.
Asked if he was confident of keeping his job, Heckingbottom said: “I feel it but all the conversations I’ll be having will be about that.
“There’ll be difficult conversations to be had, honest conversations, but it needs to be done because I’m really clear in my mind about what needs to happen. It’s not about apportioning blame, no chance, but it’s about looking at where we are, what needs to be done and what’s the end product. What’s the club going to be like going forward?
“This is probably the most important time for me, probably defining what I do here: how long I’m here, how successful I am and how successful the team is. I want this to be the start of a change for the club in terms of putting really good markers down and processes in place that will help the club develop over the coming years.
“You question what I’ve done wrong, what I could have done better, what I’ve done well and what has gone well because there’s lots of good work been done, not just from me. What does that mean now and how do we improve on that? Because we’re obviously not the finished article.
“While there’s lots of frustration for me, those are the questions you’re asking and that’s what you take from it.”
Frustration has grown amongst United’s crowd after Leeds dropped dramatically from a play-off position around Christmas. The club have recorded three wins from 21 league fixtures since Boxing Day and lie 14th in the Championship.
Heckingbottom admitted that he had failed to win over Leeds’ supporters in the early stages of his reign.
“Results will always dictate that,” he said. “I’m a big believer in that. That’s the end product.
“If you’re the owner of the club, the CEO, the manager, you’re only good at your job if the team’s winning because that’s what’s seen. Everyone’s emphasis should be on ‘what do we need to do to make this team win?’ Because if not, you’re garbage, you’re garbage, you’re garbage. It’s that simple.
“But lots of things going into achieving that and they’re the things we need to speak about. I’m just really clear on what needs to happen and they’re the conversations I’m going to have.
“The proof will be in the pudding, in how things are next season: the type of players we bring in, the identity of the team, the drive of the team and ultimately results and performances on the pitch.”
Heckingbottom, however, kept his cards close to his chest on the subject of the specific changes he wanted to see in the summer transfer window.
“I’m not going to expand on that now,” he said. “It’s personal to me, it’s my opinion, but you come to a point where we know exactly what we’re going to do as a club. Then I sit here and tell you.”