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Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom has taken a vested interest in the career of John Stones, but is hoping the Manchester City defender endures a torrid afternoon in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
The Blades, who are on the cusp of winning promotion back to the Premier League, take on City at the national stadium hoping to cause a massive upset and reach a first FA Cup final since 1937.
Heckingbottom knows Stones better than most as the England international was in the Under-16s group at Barnsley when Heckingbottom took their training as he worked towards his coaching badges.
The pair have kept in touch, but Heckingbottom hopes to see his former pupil – and ex-Blades defender Kyle Walker – suffer this weekend.
“Stonesy I know, he was the first age group I took training when I was still playing and doing my hours for my badges,” Heckingbottom said.
“It was his age group at Under-16s so I’ve known him a while. He has gone on to achieve really big things.
“We’ve kept in touch from a distance. We’re both busy. More so when he’s been playing for England, or scoring for England or they’ve done well, I’ve dropped him a message.
“You see Kyle’s picture up there in our auditorium so the club hold him in very high regard. I saw him here for the Spurs game doing the commentary and he’s certainly got an affection for the club but Stonesy will want to beat me and Kyle will want to beat Sheffield United.
“When I watch them two for England there is no bigger fan than me, but I don’t want them to play so well this weekend. They are not finished yet and want to do something extra special this season.
“They’re chasing their own things. As much as you might have an affiliation with a club or friendships with people, when you’re chasing a treble, you want to win.
“They are well positioned to do something unbelievable but our focus is on us. As difficult as it is, we want to win the game.”
Pep Guardiola said he “did not know” how his team would recover from Wednesday night’s Champions League clash with Bayern Munich in time for the Blades game as they were suffering from exhaustion.
Heckingbottom was left smiling by those comments and took them with a pinch of salt.
“He could play a different team if he wanted,” he said. “I would say we speak a lot about the emotional exhaustion so I get that.
“We’ve just gone through their possible XI and you could pick one where no one played the other night so we don’t buy into that.
“We have to prepare for playing against 11 top international players coached by one of the best managers in the world chasing the treble.
“But we’re looking forward to it. Whichever XI he puts out, we’re looking forward to it.”
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