Paul Heckingbottom: I’ll feel for Hibs players like they were my kids

Neil Lennon’s unabating demands of the players are regarded as part of the reason Hibernian achieved a new ?top-flight points high last ?season on the back of their Championship title success.

New 
Hibs head coach Paul Heckingbottom observes the players at training. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
New Hibs head coach Paul Heckingbottom observes the players at training. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

It is also widely considered that it was the Northern Irishman’s penchant for refusing to accept a drop in standards that ultimately led to his initial internal suspension (although that was retracted) as head coach before subsequently parting company at the end of last month following a largely
successful two-and-a-half year spell in charge.

So, naturally, there is an inevitable interest in how his successor, former Barnsley and Leeds United manager, Paul Heckingbottom, plans to interact with the players.

The 41-year-old was unveiled to the media yesterday after agreeing a three-and-a-half year contract with the club on Wednesday.

“It sounds daft but you feel for them like they’re your kids,” said a composed and measured Heckingbottom, who will make his dugout debut in today’s Premiership visit of Hamilton.

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“I love the games, I love the players. You become attached to the players.

“I knew how that would be anyway. I’ve been coaching for a long time before and if you want to improve people, you have to know the people, and if you know people you start caring for them.

“You end up reprimanding them for the same things you tell your kids off for. The same behaviours, one hundred per cent.

“Praising them for the same things, feeling proud of them, disappointed with them. That’s how it is and it’s a big part of how I do the job.”

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Heckingbottom’s man-management style is likely to be welcomed by those in the squad who were sensitive to Lennon’s.

However, a title success and the aforementioned feat of amassing 67 points last season, not to mention his notable ability to stick up for both himself and the club through the media, ensured Lennon enjoyed a healthy 
relationship with the Easter Road faithful.

Asked if that brought its own pressure as he sought to establish his own rapport, Heckingbottom replied: “I’m not going to try to emulate anyone, I’m not going to be like Neil because Neil did great here.

“You want to carry on that success, of course, but you can’t pretend to be anyone else. You’d get found out.

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“People would be picking holes in you. You’ve got to be genuine, who you are.

“I’ll 100 per cent do that.

“The fans want to win games but they also want someone who they know is trying their best for them and representing the club properly.”

Heckingbottom achieved Football League Trophy and a League One play-off success with Barnsley and, while his immediate target is to get Hibs into the top six – they are currently five points adrift– the Yorkshireman also aims to please the Hibs supporters by playing an exciting brand of football.

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“Definitely, 100 per cent,” said Heckingbottom, who will be assisted by former Scotland internationalist
Robbie Stockdale.

“If you ask anyone, of course, you want to do both but you don’t want to have a naivety, you want the players to understand how to win football matches.

“If you recruit the right qualities in players you can win matches with pace on the front foot and be really aggressive with it as well.

“An all-round team play good football, play quickly, press high up the pitch and you are really difficult to play against.

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“That’s the goal, the evolution of always trying to achieve and get better. Short term we have a massive cup game coming up in a couple of weeks [in the Scottish Cup quarter-finals against Celtic] and we’ll try to achieve that top six, which actually fits quite well with me.

“Because longer term – if we are going to over-achieve, I mean break into the ones like the Kilmarnocks who have had a fantastic season breaking past people with more money than them – that’s what we want to do.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Heckingbottom also discussed his grounding as a kid under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, saying: “What I took from that was the humility, the hard work, the drive of the top players. It helped me massively in my career.”

The former Sheffield Wednesday, Darlington, Bradford City and Barnsley defender also spoke of his decision 
to attain a degree in sports coaching from Leeds Beckett University.

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“I did it for selfish reasons if I am being honest, I wanted my CV to be different,” he said.

“You got a playing background, think about how many people have that, you’ve got all your governing body qualifications.

“I thought: ‘how else can I look different? I’ll go and do a degree’.”