Sheffield United have confirmed the departure of manager Chris Wilder by mutual consent, with former Leeds boss Paul Heckingbottom installed as caretaker until the end of the season.
Speculation had mounted over Wilder’s future on Friday, when the club’s media duties ahead of Sunday’s Premier League match at Leicester were cancelled.
Wilder, who enjoyed great success after taking charge of his boyhood club in 2016 and guiding them from League One to the top flight, leaves with the Blades bottom of the Premier League.
Former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian boss Heckingbottom had been in charge of the Blades’ under-23s, and will be assisted by ex-Bournemouth manager Jason Tindall who joins Alan Knill as part of the backroom staff.
Tensions between Wilder and club owner Abdullah Bin Musa’ad Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud have heightened recently.
Only last week, Wilder stated he did not know if he would still be in charge next season, despite confirming he wanted to remain at Bramall Lane if the board and owners “stick to the plan”.
Saturday’s statement said the mutual decision had been made “following discussions”.
“Being manager of Sheffield United has been a special journey and one I’ll never forget,” Wilder said in quotes published on the club’s official website.
“I was delighted to be given the opportunity back in 2016 and have been delighted with the success which we have achieved, including two promotions and a highest-ever Premier League finish.
“I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to the club’s accomplishments along the way, including the players, staff and, in particular, the supporters.”
Sheffield United paid tribute to Wilder’s work, who managed more than 100 wins during his near five-year spell.
A club statement read: “We are confident that all Blades fans around the world will join us in thanking Chris for his hard work, commitment and expertise in driving the club.
“Now the club will turn its attention to completing the season as strongly as possible and if we are relegated, to preparing for the Championship.
“We confirm our intention to keep the core of the player group together and will continue to invest further in the academy and the first team, to place us in the best possible position for the future.”
Heckingbottom hopes the club can now look forwards.
“We have a lot of work to do, but have a great support network, all of whom will bring valuable knowledge and experience, as we look to finish the season strongly,” he said on sufc.co.uk.
United’s chief executive officer Stephen Bettis feels the swift moves will help bring some stability over the closing weeks of the campaign.
“The appointment of Paul and the integration from development to senior level is testimony to the great work that is currently being done at the academy,” Bettis said.
“The club sees the following months as an opportunity to further develop some of our talents at the academy and to give them valuable time to train with the first team.
“Additionally, Jason has a fantastic pedigree and his fresh input will hopefully add a different dimension when he joins the club on Monday. He will have a watching brief at Sunday’s game at Leicester.”
According to some reports, there had been clashes with the owner over plans to appoint a director of football, with Prince Abdullah feeling Wilder’s recruitment record has been below par.
Nevertheless, Wilder is viewed as one of the most successful managers in the club’s history and his time in charge will be remembered fondly by Blades supporters for his achievements, despite this season’s disappointment.
After taking charge of his boyhood club in the summer of 2016, Wilder helped the Blades to promotion as Sky Bet League One champions at the first time of asking before winning promotion from the Championship two seasons later, ending the club’s 12-year absence from the top flight.
The Blades were a revelation last season on their return to the Premier League, finishing ninth and maintaining a challenge for European football for the first time in the club’s history right up until the final week of the campaign.
But Wilder’s team have endured a miserable run this season, suffering the ignominy of making the worst ever start to a top-flight season in the history of English football.
The Blades have lost 22 of their 28 Premier League matches and are bottom of the table with only 14 points – 12 points from safety with 10 matches remaining.
However, they have reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, where they travel to Chelsea next weekend.