Captaincy advice from United stalwart has served Heaton well

Advice from former Manchester United colleague Gary Neville has served Tom Heaton well in his time as skipper at Burnley.

Gary Neville arriving at Turf Moor before the Clarets faced Man Utd last season
Gary Neville arriving at Turf Moor before the Clarets faced Man Utd last season

Neville captained United for five years, after the departure of Roy Keane in 2005, while Heaton – in between loan spells – was first choice reserve team keeper and part of the first team squad.

Heaton got the armband at Turf Moor in 2015 after the departure of Jason Shackell, lifting the Championship trophy at the end of the season, and led Burnley to Premier League safety last season.

He will wear the armband for the 88th time against Crystal Palace at Turf Moor tomorrow, and he still recalls key lessons from Neville, with whom he also worked with England: “Probably the one bit of advice I got from Gary Neville, is the best thing you can do is get your performances right, which I value.

“That was when the manager first gave me the armband, I had five minutes with him, ‘what do you think Gaz?’, and he chewed my ear off for 20 minutes! If you’re not careful, you can take your eye off it and start worrying about everyone else. Get your game right first, and add in everything else, that’s how I’ve tried to look at it.

“It’s constant improvement really, I keep looking at it and seeing where I can get better, and I’m enjoying the responsibility.”

Fans at Turf Moor will bear testament to Heaton’s communication skills – he is clearly aiudible from the back row of the James Hargreaves Stand during games! And he admits that is something which he has developed over time: “Communication on the pitch I’ve tried to have for about 10 years, I tried to add that in as a kid, I wasn’t massively assertive and me and my dad highlighted that to add in to try and improve.

“I did that early, but it’s different to a captain’s responsibility. I’ve always been quite self-absorbed in what I’m doing, getting what I’m doing right, and as soon as the manager hands you the armband, you have to open your eyes a little bit wider, and look beyond that.

“Communication on the pitch is something I’ve always tried to have, but communicating to people as a captain is different, knowing what to say and when to say it, if it needs to be said, setting examples, that sort of thing.”