Sheffield United: Paul Coutts and Martin Cranie are leaving Bramall Lane
Chris Wilder has described releasing Paul Coutts as the "most difficult" moment of his career as the Sheffield United manager, who confirmed the club expects to break its transfer record this summer, prepares for life in the Premier League.
Coutts, a veteran of Bramall Lane's League One title winning squad, is among five players who have been informed they will not be offered new contracts after helping win promotion from the Championship last term.
Martin Cranie, Conor Washington, Daniel Lafferty and Caolan Lavery are also being allowed to depart when their deals expire this summer while Ched Evans and Leon Clarke feature on a list of names being made available for transfer.
Explaining the thinking behind Coutts' departure, Wilder said: "We're giving him the opportunity to find a new club. He's desperate to play. Paul understands. He wants to play 40 or 40 times a season and, unfortunately, we just can't guarantee him that."
Coutts spent nearly a year out of the game after suffering a serious leg injury in November 2017, six months after helping United return to the second tier of English football during Wilder's first season in charge. But Oliver Norwood's arrival from Brighton and Hove Albion has limited his opportunities during the second-half of the campaign.
"Sitting down with Paul was the hardest thing I've done in my career," Wilder said. "It's really unfortunate, his story. But he's on board. He understands."
On Cranie, Wilder added: "He's been a fabulous member of the group. He's made a huge contribution to what we've achieved."
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Together with Clarke and Evans, who finished the season on loan with Wigan and Fleetwood respectively, Ricky Holmes, Nathan Thomas, Ben Heneghan, Jake Wright and Ricky Holmes have also been put up for sale.
Dean Henderson, Kieran Dowell, Scott Hogan, Gary Madine and Marvin Johnson are returning to their parent clubs after joining United on temporary agreements, although Wilder has refused to rule out the possibility some might return when the window re-opens. Talks with Manchester United, aimed at securing Henderson's services for another 12 months, are already underway.
"The great thing is, we already know so much about them," Wilder said. "If we need to go back and they are available, that's a real advantage and it'll be discussed."
Acknowledging United's attention has now turned to bolstering the options at his disposal, Wilder predicted his most expensive purchase will exceed the £4m they paid to sign John Egan last summer.