James Shield: Sheffield United shouldn't fear Senegal masterclass from Iliman Ndiaye at World Cup
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And commiserations to Rhys Norrington-Davies, who but for an unfortunate and untimely injury would surely have joined his Sheffield United team mate in the World Cup squad Wales have just dispatched to Qatar. Oh, and good luck to Robert Page, their international manager. The former United defender is an all-round top bloke. One of football’s good guys and a mighty fine manager too. Although it goes without saying, hopefully Page’s touch deserts him when his team faces England at the Al Rayyan Stadium later this month. (Fingers crossed it’s only to decide who finishes first and second in their group).
Speaking of good guys brings me conveniently to the thrust of this week’s column. It’s about Iliman Ndiaye and whether the youngster’s call-up for the tournament by Senegal is a good thing for United or quite the opposite.
I’ve heard a lot of nonsense spoken about this subject in recent weeks. And most of it revolves around the fact Ndiaye, one if not the stand-out player for a side which entered the break in the Championship’s schedule ranked second in the table, might only hasten his exit from Bramall Lane if he excels in the Middle East.
There’s no point in pretending otherwise: If Ndiaye’s career continues on the same upward trajectory, then he won’t be with United much longer. Even if Heckingbottom’s side, which its more than equipped to do, finds itself competing at Premier League level next season. Because there’s a food chain in the English game and all the others across the globe too. Promotion might only delay the inevitable, because you can bet your bottom riyal, the lad’s agent will know his client’s worth.
That’s not being defeatist. It’s simply being realistic. And it doesn’t make United a selling club either, even though I don;t believe they always get the best value for some of the assets. How did Ndiaye end up at Bramall Lane in the first place? Because it represented a step up from Boreham Wood, where he was competing before. The same goes for Oli McBurnie and Swansea City, John Fleck and Coventry City and even, perhaps most pertinently in the circumstances, Aaron Ramsdale now of Arsenal and England. When he returned to United from AFC Bournemouth, it was because they were in the top flight and The Cherries had just gone down.
The trick coaches must perform, a wise old head told me earlier this week, is to predict when lads like Ndiaye might be prised away and make sure you’ve identified a suitable replacement. Assuming, of course, the financial resources are placed at your disposal to do this.
Personally I’m hoping Ndiaye smashes it with Senegal. Not sinks without a trace.
Why? Because it will be good for him, good for United and it won’t suddenly bring him to the attention of the sport’s leading recruitment experts. Because you can never score goals or produce superb pieces of skill on the quiet. Those tasked with hoovering up talent for European behemoths will already know exactly - and what - Ndiaye is.