Sheffield United: Has Oli McBurnie just sent a message to The Blades?

It was a small, almost imperceptible shift to the position he has adopted for most of the summer.

Wednesday, 17th July 2019, 7:49 pm
Oli McBurnie scored twice against Sheffield United last season: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

But Oli McBurnie's decision to admit he is "flattered" by Sheffield United's interest, after previously insisting he is thinking only of Swansea City, could represent arguably the most important twist in Chris Wilder's campaign to sign the centre-forward.

McBurnie, one of the United manager's leading targets in the transfer market, has been the subject of intense interest from Bramall Lane since the 51-year-old led his squad to promotion from the Championship last term. Two bids have been tabled, the latter reportedly worth around £15m. But both have been rejected by officials at the Liberty Stadium.

Although McBurnie has steadfastly refused to agitate for a transfer, even going so far as insisting Steve Cooper's appointment as City's head coach "got me really excited and ready to go", the 23-year-old is thought to be keen on holding talks with United. So, given his present club's intransigence, McBurnie's decision to acknowledge Wilder's overtures will cause concern in South Wales.

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"It's out of my hands," McBurnie admitted last night. "It's the clubs' decision and them two will speak about that. It's for people way above my pay grade to talk about."

Sometimes, as those with an understanding of footballing politics will testify, what a player does not say is more important than the words they actually utter during media interviews. McBurnie could easily have put an end to the saga by confirming he intends to stay with City. He failed, during his latest chat with a television journalist, to offer any such guarantee.

"It's flattering," McBurnie continued. "It shows I'm doing something right, getting attention from clubs like that.

"But everyone who knows me, they know I'll keep my head focused on the pitch, focused on football and not let my head get turned. I'll get on with football and let them (United and City) sort it out themselves."

Oli McBurnie has spoken about his situation at the Liberty Stadium: Simon Galloway/PA Wire.

McBurnie, who despite being a Scotland international was born in Leeds, can be forgiven for wanting to meet with United. Geographically speaking, joining Wilder's side would enable him to spend more time with his family. More importantly, they can also offer him Premier League football.

Selling Daniel James to Manchester United for a reported £15m had reduced some of the pressure on City's budget as they attempt to comply with the English Football League's financial regulations. But United's negotiating position will be strengthened if, after seeing them agree a fee for AFC Bournemouth's Lys Mousset, McBurnie decides to agitate for a transfer behind the scenes. There has been no sign of him doing that so far. Indeed, those who have worked with him at clubs such as Newport County and Barnsley, where he has previously enjoyed successful spells on loan, describe him as a model professional. But United have been monitoring him for over a year now, after first approaching City about his potential availability towards the end of the 2017/18 season. Had the Welshmen not been relegated from the top-flight, sources close to the negotiating process have told The Star United might have got their man then.

McBurnie scored 24 times in all competitions last term, with two of those goals coming against United. But City finished 10th, 24 points behind Wilder's squad who secured the runners-up berth.

Swansea City striker Oli McBurnie