Sheffield United. Boss’ controversial admission after visiting the ‘Place of Possibilities’

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It is a message Paul Heckingbottom hopes was not lost on his players as their team coach snaked through the streets leading towards Oakwell ahead of last weekend’s contest. Because even though the new season is now looming large on the horizon, nothing is settled in terms of team selection.

“We’ve got ideas but nothing is settled in terms of who will be starting,” he told The Star. “I don’t have an eleven for the game. If everyone is performing well then, as you saw last year, the team will naturally change because of how contested the calendar is.

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“Some people might force their way in and become more important than they were before. Others might end up playing their way out. There’s no point when we ever say ‘This is our best eleven’ because if someone is performing well then we want them to take the chance. That’s how you get better.”

The big myth

With only four days to go before United embark upon what is expected to be another grueling 46 match campaign, Heckingbottom’s admission addresses a big misconception among supporters and journalists alike. Rather than providing an insight into his selections for the trip to Hertfordshire, which pitches United against opponents relegated from the Premier League last term, the 44-year-old’s picks at Barnsley were influenced instead by fitness and tactical issues. Most managers, he revealed, never “decide their best team”.

Oliver Arblaster has impressed Sheffield United’s coaching staff this summer. Andrew Yates / Sportimage

“Actually, I think that’s a pretty dangerous place to be,” Heckingbottom continued, busting what could now be one of football’s greatest myths. “There’s no point whatever where we get to the stage where that happens. There are injuries, suspensions and lots of other stuff that can crop up.

“So no, I don’t have an eleven in my mind for Watford yet. Yes. we know what threats they are going to pose and we think we know how they will want to go about things. But we’re always working on different scenarios and situations. If you think someone really ‘gets’ what you’re looking for then it’s simple – they go into the side.”

The plan for Watford

Although Heckingbottom’s planning for Vicarage Road will be more advanced than he is letting on – barring any unforeseen complications, new signings Reda Khadra, Anel Ahmedhodzic and Ciaran Clark all appear certain to be involved in some capacity – his intuitive approach is designed to generate the type of uber-competitive approach towards training which has become one of this regime’s most recognizable trademarks.

Paul Heckingbottom wants tough choices as Sheffield United manager. Darren Staples/Sportimage

Handed arguably the toughest assignment they could face on the opening day – despite losing some star names, Watford’s new manager Rob Edwards still has a sparkling array of top quality talent at his disposal – United want their squad to be stress-tested and mentally prepared for battle by the time they enter combat. With no more friendlies scheduled, although an inter-squad fixture was staged at the Randox Health Academy on Tuesday – the ruthless streak they will require to beat Edwards’ men must be developed organically.

The possible surprises:

Despite bolstering his midfield options by signing Khadra and Tommy Doyle from Brighton and Hove Albion and Manchester City respectively, although the latter is currently ruled-out with a thigh complaint, Heckingbottom recently floated the idea that teenager Oliver Arblaster could feature at the beginning of the season after impressing following United’s return to work.

Daniel Jebbison (right) scored twice against Burton Albion. Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“No one should feel safe or comfortable,” Heckingbottom warned. “Because that’s not how it works here. If you do well and you show you are good enough, if you prove to us that you are going to give us the best possible chance of winning the game, then you’ll be in. It’s as simple as that. It’s not names or reputations that count. It’s what you do, every single time you come into this place.”

Although Heckingbottom felt the meeting with the club where he started his managerial career had more of a real match feel – “There were tackles and a bit of gamesmanship” – events inside the Pirelli Stadium gave him food for thought. Albion, also a League One outfit, were beaten 3-0 with centre-forward Daniel Jebbison scoring twice and Enda Stevens writing his name into the scoresheet.

“I want tough choices, I want difficult decisions to make,” said Heckingbottom, whose sights in the transfer market are now trained on a new wing-back. “That’s the position we all want to be in and that’s why it’s also wrong to have any preconceived ideas and make up your mind too early. It means you’re not open to what’s happening around you. In every single one (season) there’s always usually someone who comes through and forces their way in. If you didn’t have an open mind, then that wouldn’t happen would it? And you wouldn’t be ready either for what always gets thrown at you.”

The selection dilemma:

Arblaster, George Broadbent, Jebbison and his fellow 18-year-old Will Osula are among those offered chances to capture Heckingbottom’s imagination over the past month or so. Despite increasing competition for places since last term’s defeat in the Championship play-off semi-finals, it appears likely that at least two will be involved in some capacity when United attempt to demonstrate that they have recovered from that penalty shoot-out defeat at Nottingham Forest.

“Everyone has got to be ready,” Heckingbottom said. “And I mean everyone. If they’re not prepared to step in then, quite simply, they won’t be helping us. We want them all to know that anything is possible.”

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