Sheffield United sack manager Paul Heckingbottom and appoint Chris Wilder

Premier League strugglers Sheffield United have sacked Paul Heckingbottom and appointed their former manager Chris Wilder as his replacement.

United are bottom of the Premier League and four points from safety after losing 11 of their opening 14 games.

Owner Prince Abdullah told TalkSport Wilder was “the best guy on planet earth to take over the club right now”.

“Chris is very optimistic he can save the season,” added Prince Abdullah, confirming the news for the first time.

“He doesn’t think it’s easy, but he thinks it’s still possible.”

Heckingbottom, appointed on a permanent basis in November 2021, guided the club back to the top flight by finishing second in the Championship last season.

But after Saturday’s 5-0 loss to fellow promoted side Burnley, which saw the Clarets move off the bottom of the table at United’s expense, the 46-year-old has become the first Premier League manager to be sacked this season.

By this stage last season six managers had been sacked, leading to a Premier League-record 13 departures.

Heckingbottom’s scheduled news conference on Monday afternoon was cancelled amid morning reports that he had been sacked.

But the news had not been announced by the Blades as of Tuesday morning, with the finer details of his departure still being finalised.

It was not until Prince Abdullah’s appearance on TalkSport that the change was confirmed, with an official statement following more than one hour later on the club’s website.

Wilder, along with his staff Alan Knill, Matt Prestridge and Keith Andrews, will take charge for Wednesday’s home fixture against second-place Liverpool.

“Quite simply it was an opportunity which I just couldn’t turn down,” said Wilder of his return to the role he left after almost five years in March 2021.

“Just like in 2016, when this club comes calling, it is not something you pass up.

“This is Sheffield United, it is my team and I am thrilled to be back. We find ourselves in a difficult position, I understand that, but I think I can make a difference.”

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

He also said United had been “let down” by some players at Burnley after the Clarets moved off the bottom of the table at United’s expense.

On the decision to sack Heckingbottom, Prince Abdullah said: “I felt like after the last few games it was a necessary decision.

“The replacement has done great things for the club and knows the club, so I feel good about the decision in one way but I really have a tremendous respect for Paul.”

Speaking at his first news conference on Tuesday afternoon, Wilder said his aim would be to “reignite” the supporters – although he warned his players they must “suffer” if they are to improve their situation.

Wilder returns to Bramall Lane

Wilder oversaw Sheffield United’s rise from League One back to the Premier League, clinching two promotions in the space of three seasons following his appointment in May 2016.

The 56-year-old, a former Blades defender, achieved an impressive ninth in the club’s first season back in the top flight for 12 years in 2019-20 and his side were praised for their style as they secured eye-catching wins against Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham.

But they were unable to reach similar heights the following season, enduring the worst start to a season in Premier League history – until Heckingbottom’s side made a worse start this term.

Wilder left the Blades bottom of the Premier League, with 14 points from 28 games after failing to win any of their first 17 matches in the 2020-21 campaign.

There had been issues between Wilder and Blades owner Prince Abdullah behind the scenes, with Wilder feeling not enough had been done to strengthen his squad.

Since his departure from United, Wilder was sacked after 11 months as Middlesbrough manager in October 2022, before overseeing Watford’s final 11 Championship games last season on a short-term contract.

“My relationship with Prince Abdullah and the board was repaired a long time ago,” Wilder said.

“After some time passed following my initial departure, we spoke, met in person and there was an amicable ending. Now, coming back as manager, to know there is a united front again is crucial as we look to work together to improve the club’s position in the Premier League.”

Prince Abdullah said: “Chris is practically an honour of the club, he’s part of Sheffield United history.

“One thing I always like to do, not just in football but all of my businesses, is to keep a good relationship with my ex-employees no matter how it ended. I think you should get over it.

“We’re all passionate about what we do and we believe Chris is the right man for the job.”

‘Disgraceful’ Burnley display marks end for Heckingbottom

United, knocked out of the Carabao Cup in round two by League One Lincoln City, lost their opening three games on their return to the Premier League.

After earning their first league point in a 2-2 draw with Everton in early September, they lost their next six league games, including 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 a first win of the season against Wolves followed by a 1-1 draw at Brighton.

But, following a 3-1 defeat at Bournemouth, Oli McBurnie was sent off as United collapsed against last season’s Championship winners Burnley on Saturday – a performance described by former England captain Alan Shearer as “a disgrace” on Match of the Day.

In announcing Heckingbottom’s departure, Sheffield United said: “His professionalism and dedication have been a credit to the club and I’m sure all Unitedites enjoyed the promotion-winning campaign.

“However, after slipping to the bottom of the table and a number of disappointing results and performances, it is felt that a change is needed to give the club a boost and every possible chance of remaining in the Premier League beyond this season.”

Coaches Stuart McCall and Mark Hudson have also left the club.


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