Sheffield United: Don't be surprised if you see any of these players linked with moves to Bramall Lane soon

You don’t need a mole or degree in forensic accounting to know, if Sheffield United aren’t playing Premier League football next term, that it’s going to be a summer of change at Bramall Lane.

Thursday, 10th March 2022, 5:30 pm

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Even if Paul Heckingbottom does lead them to promotion - after this week’s win over Middlesbrough, injuries could be the biggest threat to their play-off hopes - one suspects the roster at his disposal is going to look pretty different by the time the 2022/23 campaign gets underway.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course. There’s a school of thought, which I partly subscribe to by the way, that their squad still looks too similar to the one Chris Wilder took up three years ago.

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Back at Bramall Lane on Tuesday, Heckingbottom’s good pal and legendary predecessor will have spotted plenty of familiar faces in the tunnel before the game.

Arguably United’s greatest failure over the past 12 months or so wasn’t getting relegated from the top-flight. That was always a possibility, given it probably now takes seven or eight years for a team without a major benefactor to establish itself at the highest level. No, the biggest mistake United made was failing to ensure their two seasons there created any sort of legacy. The roster of players who travel to Coventry City on Saturday, players permanently contracted to the club that is, hasn’t changed enough. The same goes for their training complex.

With United borrowing against things like parachute payments and Aaron Ramsdale’s transfer fee in recent months, one suspects Heckingbottom’s budget isn’t going to be the most lavish in the division should they remain in the Championship. That could impact upon – but not wreck - negotiations with Billy Sharp, Chris Basham, Ben Osborn and others whose deals are about to expire. Sone of those whose agreements run for a little longer are also likely to attract interest from elsewhere.

If United don’t qualify for the post-season knockouts, or do and then get knocked out themselves, replacements will probably have to be sought for loanees such as Morgan Gibbs-White, Ben Davies and Charlie Goode - now available again following suspension. But that’s the game. That’s the food chain.

Billy Sharp, Morgan Gibbs-White and Ben Osborn all face uncertain futures at Sheffield United: Isaac Parkin / Sportimage

I just wonder, given all the talk about “synergy” when Heckingbottom was appointed in November, if the next transfer window is going to be the one when United World (UW) really begins to make its presence in South Yorkshire.

UW, the organisation established by HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to oversee his sporting interests, has so far had very little impact upon policy at United. Could this be about to change?

Beerschot is the other big name on the UW portfolio. And, barring a dramatic chain of events in Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League (JPL), they are heading back to the second tier. Sunday’s loss to neighbours Antwerp was their 22nd defeat in 30 outings.

Officials at the Olympisch Stadion have been pretty busy in the transfer market of late. But if caretaker boss Greg Vanderidt fails to perform a miracle, it could be difficult for Beerschot to retain the services of their leading names - including 21-year-old defender Stipe Radic, his fellow Croat Leon Krekovic and Lawrence Shankland.

The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield

With UW unlikely to relish the prospect of seeing Radic and Shankland in particular leave the organisation, United could provide the solution to this particular problem. Ismaila Coulibaly, the player they signed from Sarpsborg towards the end of Wilder’s reign but who has yet to actually appear for them, already sounds as if he will shortly be invited to begin working with Heckingbottom’s side. Would it be a stretch to suggest he might be offered - or gifted - Radic and Shankland too? Probably not. Because it would keep them beneath the UW umbrella. Which appears to be the whole point of the exercise.

As The Star first revealed towards the end of last year, United and Beerschot could soon going to be using the same kit supplier after UW’s hierarchy began investigating a group-wide deal with Errea. No public announcement has been made about this yet. But, barring a huge change of heart, the Italian firm will begin manufacturing first team strips and leisurewear for both when United’s partnership with Adidas expires. Kerala United, Chateauroux and Al-Hilal United, who are also part of the UW network, are expected to be part of this arrangement too.

Shankland, of course, is well known in Britain following his exploits with Dundee United before completing a shock move to Beerschot in August for an undisclosed sum. After scoring 50 times in 60 league appearances for Ayr, the 26-year-old went on to net 32 in 59 for the Taysiders following a switch to Tannadice Park.

Radic, aged 21, doesn’t have a profile on these shores, But capped by his country at youth and under-20 levels, he does back home in the Balkans. Like Krekovic, a forward, the young centre-half turned professional with Hajduk Split. With all due respect to United’s Flemish cousins, neither Radic nor his compatriot probably grew up dreaming of forging careers in the JPL. So a spell in the 1B Pro League definitely isn’t going to appeal. That, I’m positive, didn’t feature on Shankland’s agenda either when he waved goodbye to Scotland.

Paul Heckingbottom could be asked to work more closely with United World: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

There are no guarantees. I’m not saying one or all of these ‘transfers’ will actually happen.

But don’t be stunned either, providing he can qualify for a work permit, if Radic is soon plying his trade in northern England wearing a red and white striped jersey made by a firm from Torrile. Or if Shankland begins getting linked with United. Oh, and also Krekovic. Plus a couple more of Beerschot’s higher profile players too.

Otherwise, whether you believe it’s a good idea or not, talk of encouraging greater cooperation between everyone involved in the project will begin to sound pretty hollow.