NEW Leeds United head coach Paul Heckingbottom says he is ready for a defining period of the season and insists he and the club are “aligned” in their ideas after signing an 18-month contract.
Heckingbottom was appointed yesterday morning and travelled straight to Thorp Arch to take charge of his first training session with Saturday’s Yorkshire derby at Sheffield United looming and Leeds under pressure to fight their way back into contention for the Championship play-offs.
United’s campaign has run aground after six league matches without victory and a 4-1 defeat to Cardiff City on Saturday spelled the end of Thomas Christiansen’s 35-game reign as head coach.
Heckingbottom was appointed swiftly by Leeds, with the club paying £500,000 to release him from a new contract he agreed with Barnsley only last Friday. The 40-year-old is jumping in at the deep end with United due to play Sheffield United at Bramall Lane this Saturday before clashes with top-six sides Bristol City and Derby County and an encounter with league leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers all coming up in their next five games.
Heckingbottom said: “We’ll get out on the grass because that’s important. There are some really big fixtures coming up and some which are going to define the season. I can’t wait to get started. I can’t wait. It’s a big opportunity, a big football club and something you work hard for. I’m planning to make the most of it.”
Heckingbottom left Barnsley in 21st place in the Championship and less than a week after accepting new terms at Oakwell, drawing a pointed statement from Barnsley that said they were “thoroughly disappointed”.
The management structure at Leeds, where Spaniard Victor Orta operates as director of football and exerts heavy control over recruitment and transfers, has come under scrutiny amid their poor run of form and a struggle amongst certain summer signings to make a serious impact.
But Heckingbottom, who has brought assistant Jamie Clapham with him to Leeds, said: “When I spoke to Victor and the owner (Andrea Radrizzani), it really aligned with what I was thinking and how I’d like to work.
I presume that’s the reason they thought I was the right man for the job. I’m aligned with how they like to work and hopefully that will be good for us going forward.Leeds United head coach, Paul Heckingbottom
“I presume that’s the reason they thought I was the right man for the job. I’m aligned with how they like to work and hopefully that will be good for us going forward.”
Heckingbottom was followed to Elland Road by Barnsley assistant Clapham, their head of sports science Nathan Wilder and performance analyst Alex Bailey.
Barnsley made no secret of their frustration at Heckingbottom’s rapid departure, so soon after accepting a new contract at Oakwell.
His improved rolling deal there appeared to have secured his immediate future but the inclusion of a release clause allowed Heckingbottom to walk out of Barnsley exactly two years to the day after being appointed.
In a statement which described the club as “thoroughly disappointed” and “shocked”, Barnsley chief executive Gauthier Ganaye said: “Yes, it was unexpected. Yes, it has come during an already complicated period. Yes, it will make things more difficult short term but our club is full of resources and it is certainly not dependent on one man alone.”