Sheffield United: Did Swansea City under-estimate Oli McBurnie? Chris Wilder believes they did
When Oli McBurnie is officially unveiled as a Sheffield United player - after the now obligatory teasers are published on their social media channels - it will mark the end of a year long courtship involving the Scotland international and the South Yorkshire club.
As The Star reported at the end of last season, after revealing McBurnie's name once again topped Chris Wilder's wanted list, the 23-year-old had also been on the verge of joining 12 months earlier when the manager first began plotting his promotion winning campaign. But when Swansea City were relegated from the Premier League, the agreement they had reached with United in principal was discreetly torn-up.
McBurnie, officials at the Liberty Stadium reckoned, might not be ready for the top-flight. But he was definitely too good for the Championship.
The second part of that theory proved to be correct when, despite City's failure to push for a top two place themselves, McBurnie finished the campaign with 24 goals. But Wilder suspects they were guilty of a dreadful miscalculation when it came to gauging the first. Which is why he has persuaded United's hierarchy, after a series of protracted negotiations, to pay around £17m triggering his release. With City expected to receive around £3m in performance related add-ons - "they're realistic and achievable," a source in Wales insisted last night - McBurnie becomes the most expensive player in United's history by some considerable margin. Indeed his fee, which is unlikely to be eclipsed before the end of the window, is around double the amount they recently paid to prise Lys Mousset away from AFC Bournemouth.
Although McBurnie's price tag appears, even by United's new standards, absolutely huge, it is pretty much par for the course in this summer's transfer market. Che Adams cost £16m when he made the leap to Southampton at the beginning of July. The centre-forward commanded around £14m less when he joined Birmingham City from United following Wilder's appointment in May 2016. United, it must be noted, were in League One at the time.
On paper, the two men's records are remarkably similar. Examine them more closely and, with all due respect to Adams, you can see why McBurnie comes at a slightly higher premium. Only one month older than his fellow professional, the Leeds-born striker scored a goal every 1.95 games last term. Adams returned a figure of 2.18 and has yet to win a senior cap.
Drill down even deeper and the figures of McBurnie's season become even more impressive. Six of his efforts came against top four clubs. A third of those were scored during meetings with United. McBurnie has clearly got a liking for big footballing occasions. After reaching the top flight for the first time in over a decade, United will be involved in plenty of themselves over the coming nine months.
With Mousset and Callum Robinson, previously of Preston North End, already bringing different skill sets to United's attack, McBurnie's presence provides Wilder with even greater flexibility. Deceptively strong in the air, he should enjoy playing in a team which encourages both its wing-backs and centre-halves to charge forward on the overlap. McBurnie is also a tireless worker, which should allow the more experienced duo of David McGoldrick and Billy Sharp to focus on doing what they do best and conserve energy. Like the overwhelming majority of United's squad, McBurnie has also tasted life in the lower divisions. Having progressed through Bradford City's youth system before heading to Chester on loan, he has also completed placements with Newport County, Bristol Rovers and Barnsley since joining City.
McBurnie, who was yesterday undergoing a series of medical assessments at a facility near Bramall Lane, will become the ninth new player to join United this summer when the results are published later today. He is expected to travel with his new team mates to France this weekend, where they face Stade de Reims at the Stade Auguste-Delaune on Saturday afternoon.