Paul Heckingbottom: Sheffield United set to sack manager

Paul Heckingbottom shouts angrily while coaching Sheffield United in the Premier League

Paul Heckingbottom is set to be sacked as Sheffield United manager within the next 24 hours.

The Blades, who lost 5-0 at Burnley on Saturday, are bottom of the Premier League with five points after losing 11 of their opening 14 games.

Appointed permanent manager in November 2021, Heckingbottom guided United to the top flight with a second-place Championship finish last season.

Former manager Chris Wilder is among the leading contenders to take over.

After the Burnley game Heckingbottom criticised the club for making “financial rather than football decisions” by selling key players in the summer.

The 46-year-old said United were “let down” by some players at Burnley, who had never won a Premier League game by five goals. Victory lifted them off the bottom of the table at United’s expense.

United are four points from safety, have won only once this season and have a goal difference of minus 28.

They host second-placed Liverpool at Bramall Lane on Wednesday.

Heckingbottom’s scheduled news conference was cancelled on Monday.

Unhappy return to top flight

United lost their opening three games on their return to the Premier League and rounded off August with a home defeat by League One Lincoln City in the Carabao Cup second round.

After earning their first league point in a 2-2 draw with Everton in early September, United lost their next six league games, which included a humiliating 8-0 home defeat by Newcastle and a 5-0 loss at Arsenal.

The defeat by Arsenal meant Sheffield United, with nine losses in their opening 10 matches and a goal difference of minus 22, recorded the worst start by any side to a Premier League season.

They hinted at an improvement in form before November’s international break, with Oliver Norwood’s stoppage-time penalty earning a first win of the season against Wolves, which was followed by a 1-1 draw at Brighton.

But a 3-1 defeat at Bournemouth, after which Heckingbottom said his players fell below the standard required, added greater importance to the meeting with Burnley.

Heckingbottom ‘let down’ by players

On Saturday, United conceded in the opening minute against last season’s Championship winners Burnley.

Oli McBurnie was sent off at 2-0 down in first-half stoppage time and United conceded three times in the final 17 minutes of the match.

“One or two didn’t really manage the situation and the occasion, then it became really difficult,” Heckingbottom told BBC’s Match of the Day.

“The players know what I think – I am always honest with them in there. There’s one or two know that we’ve been let down today.”

Former England captain Alan Shearer described United’s performance as “a disgrace”.

“From the first minute, they lost three tackles in three or four seconds. It summed them up,” he said on Match of the Day.

Speaking on Monday, Burnley manager Vincent Kompany said of Heckingbottom’s expected sacking: “I know that just three or four months ago he was one of the best managers in the [Championship].

“We met at an awards dinner and he was picking up awards, so it can’t have changed that much in a few months. If you look at the level of this league, it’s important to put that context on it.

“Last year the amount of praise he was getting for the work he was doing stuck with me. Some people just accept this in football, I don’t. It is what it is.”

Transfer policy and ownership issues

There have been rumours of a takeover at United since Saudi Arabian owner Prince Abdullah announced plans to sell the club before last season’s promotion.

He has been the sole owner since winning a High Court battle with previous chairman Kevin McCabe in September 2019.

United had a transfer embargo placed on them this year over the default of payments to another club.

Their transfer policy has also been questioned by some fans.

United sold two of last season’s star players shortly before this season as Iliman NDiaye joined Marseille and Sander Berge moved to Burnley.

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