Fourty year old Paul Heckingbottom may not have been the first name that most Leeds United fans though as their first choice for the vacant head coach job once Thomas Christiansen. With just over 100 games managed under his belt and Barnsley 21st in the table he may not have the experience or pedigree many were hoping for. He wouldn't have been my first choice but I think this is a good appointment. Despite their current position he has done an outstanding job at Barnsley, the job he has done at there is very similar to what Grayson achieved at Leeds under Bates.
After they beat us 3-2 in January 2017 they were four points off the play-offs and one of the in-form sides in the league. All the signs were there that they could push for the top 6 but then they lost Hourihane, Bree and Winnall all in the same week. They made just under £7 million from those sales and all he had to spend in terms of a replacement was £500,000 on Alex Mowatt. In the end they finished fourteenth (which for Barnsley is a very good achievement in the circumstances) but without doubt would have been pushing for the play offs last season had they been able to keep those three players or at least been given the funds to find suitable replacements.
Over the last two years Heckingbottom also lost Alfie Mawson, Marley Watkins, Marc Roberts, Josh Scowen and Angus McDonald. The total value of all the player sales was around £15 million and could have been a lot higher than that as well if the Barnsley board hadn’t allowed the contracts of the majority of those players to either run down or expire. He has been given virtually nothing budget wise to replace those eight key players so I personally think he has done well to keep them above the relegation zone this time around. Don't forget how good a job he did to get them in the Championship in the first place they were tenth in league one when he took over in February 2016.
I have been really impressed with Barnsley's style of football under Heckingbottom as well, they dominated both games against us last season and when Hourihane, Winnall and Watkins were at the club. They often earned praise about being one of the best footballing sides in the league. They always played to win games, no sitting back and settling for points against the better sides. Look at some of the results Heckingbottom has achieved over the last 18 months 4-0 at Wolves, 3-0 at Birmingham (under Rowett), 3-1 at Villa, 2-0 vs Derby, 4-3 at Cardiff. Could you imagine us over the last 6-7 years going to a promotion rival away from home and seriously trying to take the game to them and scoring 3 or 4 goals in the process. Clear to see why they were one of the highest scoring teams in the league last season despite losing their two main goal threats in January.
I'm certainly not expecting hoof ball and negative football under Heckingbottom. Although even this season he has picked up some good points against the better sides and you would have to think with the likes of Saiz and Hernandez at his disposal the potential is there for us to start scoring goals again. I think we will actually try and pass the ball, run at players, play at a fast tempo and will build a system to allow us to make the most of Saiz and Hernandez's individual creativity.
Another key thing is Heckingbottom's know how in terms of player development, he has improved so many players at Barnsley those eight that I mentioned earlier for starters. You look at our squad at the minute and the likes of Vieira, Phillips, Ekuban, Roberts and Shaughnessy etc could all improve and become top championship players under Heckingbottom. I reckon the likes of Alioski and Forshaw will add more goals to their game under Heckingbottom's more attacking system. No way Heckingbottom would have put up with Alioski or Roofe's performances on Saturday. Heckingbottom in charge rather than Christiansen might make our under 23 system work better as well as he seems a lot more willing to give players a chance judging by his time at Barnsley.
One win in his last sixteen games is a worry but there are most definitely signs that Heckingbottom could be a massive success here and I am optimistic about this. We have got to give him time though because he is inheriting a difficult situation, lots of players out and a tough run of games. Play-offs are unrealistic for me now, I just want to see us trying to implement a better more sustainable style of football for next season and a respectable run of results over the next 16 games. Then we can allow Heckingbottom to go into pre-season prepared and fully aware of who he needs so that next season is the season.
I think on Saturday a lot of fans will be pleasantly surprised when we go to Sheffield United and actually try to pass the ball and give our creative players some attacking freedom. I have a lot of confidence in Heckingbottom. This could be the best decision Radrizzani has made so far.