Sheffield United: Securing Jack O’Connell’s future might be The Blades’ best piece of business yet
Confirmation that Jack O'Connell has signed a new contract should ensure Sheffield United enter next week's derby with an extra spring in their step, but the benefits should be felt long after the dust has settled on Monday's game at Hillsborough.
Although they are unlikely to trouble Billy Sharp in the goal-scoring charts or split a defence wide open with an inch-perfect pass, O'Connell and his fellow defender Chris Basham are arguably two of the most influential members of Chris Wilder's squad.
Indeed the manager's pioneering system, which pairs enterprising wing-backs with over-lapping centre-halves, is largely dependent upon the duo's athleticism and understanding of when to attack or, if a potential threat is identified, stay back. With both now tied to Bramall Lane until 2023 and 2021 respectively, United have not only protected their investment but provided Wilder with a degree of certainty about how his team can continue to develop.
The length of O'Connell's deal reflects not only his age but the fact Brighton and Hove Albion expressed an interest in acquiring his services last summer. The Premier League club were reportedly prepared to pay around £6m to secure the 24-year-old's release but, unless a release clause has been inserted into the agreement, O'Connell's value has now probably trebled.
"I've really enjoyed my football since arriving almost three years ago," he said. "It has been a tremendous journey and who knows how far we can go?
"We have been chatting about a new contract for a while and I'm delighted it has been completed. Now the full concentration is on the football."
"The fans have been brilliant since the day I have arrived," O'Connell, previously of Brentford, added. "This is a fantastic club and with David McGoldrick, Enda Stevens and Billy Sharp all signing, it shows how much everyone wants to be here and hopefully enjoy more success."
As O'Connell acknowledged, United have awarded extended and improved contracts to three of his team mates in recent weeks, while Martin Cranie also accepted fresh terms following Basham's commitment in November. Although he is definitely available for selection against Sheffield Wednesday, second-placed United are waiting to discover if O'Connell (hamstring) will be fit to face Steve Bruce's side.
"It's another boost that Jack has pledged his long-term future here and we are all delighted," Wilder said. "He's been a big part of the past and will play a big part in the future for us.
"It backs up our commitment of rewarding the players who have served us well and ones that we believe will continue to grow with the club."