Jay O’Shea’s decision to reject a contract offer from Sheffield United yesterday was far from unexpected, but nevertheless leaves Blades chief Chris Wilder with another hole to plug as he prepares to lead his title-winning side into the Championship.
Wilder, taking a leaf out of the Ronald Koeman playbook of contract negotiation, revealed last week that O’Shea had been set a deadline to accept or reject United’s offer.
The deadline came and went, O’Shea said thanks but no thanks and both parties move on; the player possibly to Wigan, if Paul Cook moves there from Portsmouth, and the manager to his list of other targets - one of whom, Hartlepool’s highly-rated young winger Nathan Thomas, signed a three-year deal at Bramall Lane yesterday.
“We offered Jay a good two-year deal but he has exercised his right to turn it down and look elsewhere,” Wilder said.
“We thank him for his contribution in the second half of the season and wish him all the best for the future.”
Reaction to the news amongst Blades fans was telling. O’Shea made a valuable contribution during his time at United, on loan from Chesterfield - scoring vital goals at Swindon and particularly Oldham away, a stunning strike on a shocking surface - but never quite made the No.10 position his own, faced with competition from Mark Duffy and the excellent Samir Carruthers.
O’Shea, then, could surely not have expected much more than a squad role next season and for that, his decision to reject a contract and not just pick up a wage, as a Championship player, should be applauded.
For Wilder, it’s another thought to occupy his mind now the Champagne and Peroni has dried up and thoughts turn towards the next season, rather than the last.
Matt Done, James Wilson and Chris Hussey have already been transfer listed; Louis Reed and Ben Whiteman will be touted for loan moves, with David Brooks temporarily on the way to Chesterfield as part of the deal which brought Ched Evans back to Bramall Lane.
Enda Stevens, the out-of-contract Portsmouth left-back, could be confirmed this week after fresh talks with the player and his representatives, while Wilder has been linked with Walsall duo Erhun Oztumer and Neil Etheridge.
The other gaps in Wilder’s squad are obvious; assuming Wilson leaves this summer, United are down to three centre-halves after Ethan Ebanks-Landell’s return to Wolves. Doubts over John Brayford’s future mean cover for Kieron Freeman at right back is a priority, and United expanded their search to include wingers as Wilder attemps to assemble a squad which can plot its way through what will be a difficult Championship campaign.
What is reassuring for United fans is Wilder’s refusal to throw money at players who see United as a step down, preferring instead to focus on young, hungry ones who want to thrive in the positive environment that last season’s stunning success has created.
Thomas is one; a player who scored nine goals in a team relegated from the Football League should conceivably thrive in one riding the wave of promotion.
Not all Wilder’s signings will work - he is the first to admit Hussey’s move to South Yorkshire is one that hasn’t - but he has certainly earned a huge amount of goodwill amongst supporters who trust totally in Tufty. Jack O’Connell, relatively unknown before being plucked from Brentford, emerged as a crowd favourite and even Leon Clarke, despite former blue and white allegiances, did likewise with six goals in his last six appearances of the season.
Planning began for the new campaign months ago and as the season ticks ever closer, there is much to be excited about around Bramall Lane as the club prepares for the latest chapter in the remarkable Wilder story.