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Why Paul Heckingbottom’s appointment at Leeds United is a risk worth taking

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Barnsley

Why Paul Heckingbottom’s appointment at Leeds United is a risk worth taking

Paul Heckingbottom’s appointment as Leeds United manager is a risk, but one worth taking in order to push for Premier League promotion, writes Ryan Smart.

Leeds United acted swiftly in the 36 hours following Thomas Christiansen’s sacking on Sunday night, appointing the now ex-Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom to replace him by Tuesday morning.

Heckingbottom leaves the Tykes having signed a new contract with the club only one week earlier.

His release clause stood at just under £500,000, a sum Leeds had no problems in paying.

Heckingbottom’s appointment does represent a gamble for the Elland Road hierarchy, with the 40-year-old having had under two years of managerial experience.

He took over at Barnsley when Lee Johnson left for Bristol City in February 2016, promoted from the role of Development Coach at the club.

He tasted instant success, guiding the club to Football League Trophy success and following that up with a thrilling 3-1 play off final win over Millwall, allowing for a return to the Championship.

Barnsley have had to endure plenty of upheaval since promotion, selling star players like Conor Hourihane, Alfie Mawson and Sam Winnall.

In the 2016/17 campaign, they signed 16 players, selling on another 15.

This season, they have signed even more (17), while moving on a futher 19, although the majority of those were released.

Those figures have made it very difficult for Heckingbottom to establish stability at the club, showcasing how good a job he has done, comfortably keeping Barnsley in the division last season.

The Tykes have not been as consistent this season, having only won one out of their last 16 games in all competitions, but they still sit clear of the relegation zone at present.

Heckingbottom’s new contract, signed last week, showed that the owners did have faith in him to carry on the good work he has started and establish Barnsley as a solid Championship side.

 

In contrast, Leeds are not normally associated with stability, especially under the Massimo Cellino reign, although Andrea Radrizzani’s takeover of the club has signalled a positive change in terms of how the club operates.

He communicates more with the fans, keeping them updated throughout the summer of their managerial search, one which eventually ended with ex-Apoel manager Christiansen taking charge.

He also ensured that criticism of the club’s new badge last month was heard by the board, with Leeds now considering fan-designed options.

Gone are the days of loan signings from feeder sides, such as Cagliari, when Cellino was in charge, with a more focused view on transfers now apparent.

Although the transfer activity has been slightly erratic – nearly 30 players have brought into the club across all levels this season – they do seem to be bringing in a higher calibre of player, and the current squad definitely has the potential to be a top six side.

Heckingbottom has a job on his hands in order to correct the club’s poor form as of late, but the truth is that if he can get a run of positive results, as well as getting the fans back onside, the only way is up for the Yorkshire outfit.

It is a risk for both parties as those fans want instant success, with the club having been in the Championship for eight seasons now.

They are still exceptionally well supported both in England and across the world, and the size of the club and the resources available should make them a Premier League side.

The size of a club does not guarantee success, however, and Heckingbottom needs to prove to the fans and the board that he has what it takes to get the club back into the big time.

An 18 month contract gives him at least this and next season to achieve that aim, and he knows that this opportunity is going to be his best chance of reaching the top flight of English football.

It is a gamble on his part to take the job, and a gamble by the Leeds board, but one that neither will be regretting if they find themselves back in the Premier League under Heckingbottom’s management.

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