PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM was set to take training at Thorp Arch this morning after Leeds United moved to appoint the Barnsley manager as their new head coach.
Heckingbottom is due to be formally unveiled today following a swift bid by Leeds to take him from Oakwell just 24 hours after Thomas Christiansen’s sacking and three days on from Heckingbottom signing an improved deal with Barnsley.
Leeds freed the 40-year-old from that contract by activating a £500,000 recall clause yesterday, allowing Heckingbottom to travel to Elland Road for advanced talks last night.
The former Bradford City and Sheffield Wednesday defender turned down the chance to manage Sunderland earlier this season but he accepted Leeds’ approach and was expected to reach an agreement in time to meet the club’s squad at Thorp Arch today.
Heckingbottom’s latest contract at Barnsley was only signed on Friday but Leeds installed him as their preferred candidate after ending Christiansen’s 35-game reign on Sunday night.
Christiansen was dismissed in the wake of a 4-1 defeat to Cardiff City on Saturday, a result which left Leeds seven points adrift of the Championship play-offs.
Heckingbottom’s first game in charge will be Saturday’s derby with Sheffield United at Bramall Lane and confirmation of his appointment this morning would come two years to the day after he was named as caretaker boss at Barnsley.
That chance, during which Heckingbottom won promotion from League One via the play-offs and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, led to the offer of a permanent role and Heckingbottom reached his 100th game in charge last month.
Barnsley offered him a fresh deal in the aftermath of a recent takeover at Oakwell, despite the club lying one place above the Championship’s relegation places, but were powerless to prevent him speaking to Leeds once United exercised his release clause.
Leeds cleared out their backroom team over the weekend by sacking Christiansen’s assistants, Julio Banuelos and Paul Butler, and fitness coach Ivan Torres. Christiansen took training for the final time on Sunday but United’s squad were given a day off yesterday and Leeds wanted a head coach in place to meet the players when they reported into Thorp Arch this morning.
Christiansen took training for the final time on Sunday but United’s squad were given a day off yesterday and Leeds wanted a head coach in place to meet the players when they reported into Thorp Arch this morning.Phil Hay
Heckingbottom is likely to bring his Barnsley assistant, Jamie Clapham, with him to Elland Road. Clapham, a left-back during his playing career, featured for Leeds on loan from Leicester City during the 2007-08 season.
Heckingbottom’s reign as Barnsley was hampered by the repeated sale of key players, including Conor Hourihane, Sam Winnall and Alfie Mawson last season. Barnsley finished 14th in the Championship during that campaign but are in the thick of a relegation battle this term after one win from 16. Leeds, nonetheless, consider him to be a talented prospect and a suitable replacement for Christiansen.
Heckingbottom grew up in Royston and supported Barnsley in his younger years. He spoke before United’s 2-0 win at Oakwell in November about the rivalry between Leeds and Barnsley, saying: “When I was growing up, where I was from, you were a Barnsley fan or a Leeds fan when you played in the field behind my house.
“It was Leeds against Barnsley and the Leeds lads were always older than us and always used to kick smoke out of us. We hated Leeds and they hated us and that is how it was.
“It is a team everyone loves to hate but a big club with a big tradition. It’s a big derby for us.”