BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
THE MAN who will soon be confirmed as the new Hibernian boss, Paul Heckingbottom, almost gave up on his managerial dream to become a plumber after growing disillusioned by the ‘fools’ in positions of power in football.
Heckingbottom was increasingly disenchanted when he joined Bradford as a player in 2008 and, despite studying for his coaching badges and possessing a passion for teaching, he was ready to walk away from the sport when he hung up his boots.
However, he was talked around by mates David Wetherall and Wayne Jacobs, on the staff at Valley Parade, with the pair convincing him that he could help change the game for the better.
Heckingbottom subsequently completed his badges, claimed a BSc (Hons) in Sports Coaching in 2013 followed by an MSc in Sport Coaching in 2016 from Leeds Beckett University and began to work with Barnsley’s youth side.
That provided the springboard to a successful two-year stint in charge of The Tykes – winning promotion to the Championship and winning the EFL Trophy in 2016 – before an ill-fated four months in charge of Leeds.
However, speaking to the Not The Top 20 Podcast, Heckingbottom still thinks about his sliding doors moment.
“When I was playing, I felt like I wanted to be a manager at the end of it,” he recalled. “However, then you meet people in the game who are fools and don’t deserve to be there. I got a little bit disillusioned. I thought ‘I don’t want to deal with these people’, I’m done.
“I actually started plumbing. I went back to play for Bradford when David Wetherall and Wayne Jacobs were on the coaching staff. They said to me ‘what are you thinking?’
“I had started my coaching badges but let them lapse. They told me I couldn’t let people like that drive me out of the game and I should surround myself with good people and help to get rid of the folk I don’t like.
“It was like a lightbulb moment; yeah, that’s what I’m going to do. It was so important to me, it’s when I started everything again. From that
Heckingbottom’s studious nature and desire to improve led him to study the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid as he sought to create a high-intensity Barnsley side who could upset the odds.
“When I was coaching and doing my badges, one of the studies I did was on Borussia Dortmund,” he continued.
“They are a team I chose and another was Atletico Madrid, who are another team I really like. That is for the simple reason that they were overachieving.
“The players I am ever going to work with, they are not going to be Real Madrid or Barcelona. We won’t have the most money and best players. Maybe one day!
“So I asked ‘how are Dortmund winning two league titles? Why are Atletico winning La Liga and getting to Champions League finals?’ Because they shouldn’t be. I wanted to look for common threads in those teams, those performances and how they played.
“There aren’t many fans who don’t like high-intensity football! The teams who are predominantly at the top of
However, Heckingbottom relatively untroubled rise to prominence came to a shuddering halt when he was axed by Leeds United in June 2018 following just 16 games in charge. He won just four of those matches.
It prompted a period of introspection and the 41-year-old is adamant he will return to the game as a better coach.
“I always said that the first time I found myself out of work, I want to get better at certain things,” he added. “The day after I was sacked by Leeds, someone spoke to me about taking another job straight away. That was difficult because you think ‘I should go straight back in!’
“But I stuck to what I said and my family and representatives reminded me that my plan was to take time away and improve as a coach. So that’s what I did.
“It was good for me. It was the first time I had really taken a step back and looked at how I worked best, what I needed to do better, my bad habits and things I needed to change. You can’t hide from yourself. I’m pretty self-aware.”
Clearly ready for his next challenge, Heckingbottom added: “But, once you have ticked that list off, it’s a case of ‘now what?’”