How Sheffield United beat Leicester City to James McAtee transfer after “frustrating” chase
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James McAtee was at Leicester’s £100m, state-of-the-art training ground the day before returning to Sheffield United, chief executive Stephen Bettis has confirmed, after the lure of playing Premier League football swung the transfer chase in the Blades’ favour. McAtee is set to make his second Blades debut away at Tottenham Hotspur next weekend after returning on loan for a second season.
The England U21 international was a huge hit last term as the Blades won automatic promotion to the top-flight and was boss Paul Heckingbottom’s top target throughout the summer, as he sought the firepower to keep his side in the division. McAtee’s parent club Manchester City were initially reluctant to let him leave again and also accepted a bid from Championship newboys City, managed by Pep Guardiola’s former No.2 Enzo Maresca.
“We tried, tried, tried,” Bettis said of the McAtee chase. “The transfer window closed on Friday and at Thursday lunchtime, he was at Leicester. Him and his agent were in a car, ringing me and saying: ‘Book us into a hotel, Steve, because we are telling them he is coming to you and playing Premier League football. James wants to come to you.’
“When I came to the ground for the Everton match I was stopped about four times by fans asking: ‘Why didn’t you sign him before 12 noon?’ I was up until 1am sending Man City everything. It wasn’t done until 1.30pm. A lot was out of our hands. We had done everything to get him in a couple of weeks before and did everything to get him signed for 12. It was so frustrating.”
McAtee’s arrival was United’s 10th signing of the summer and completed their summer transfer business, although they are looking at a free transfer for former Aston Villa goalkeeper Jed Steer after an injury to young stopper Jordan Amissah. Three of their main signings - McAtee, Cameron Archer and Gus Hamer - all arrived after the start of the season, as United scrambled to recover from the departures of Iliman Ndiaye and Sander Berge so close to the big kick-off.
“There were a few players near the end which, in an ideal world, we’d have done much sooner,” Bettis acknowledged. “But we couldn’t get them done much sooner, we were waiting for players to become available to make them happen. An example is James McAtee, who was probably our manager’s No.1 target through the whole window. And probably supporters’, too.
“We were in constant communication with James and his agent and Man City and at times we didn’t know if it was going to happen. We didn’t know if City were going to let him out, the manager at times didn’t want to let him out and we had to wait and be patient. If we lose out on one or two games because of that the manager was willing to take that risk to have him for the rest of the season.”