Sheffield United: Snaring Oli McBurnie has been a test of financial muscle and footballing diplomacy

When Steve Cooper used his first pre-match press conference as Swansea City manager to confirm Oli McBurnie's departure, no one in the audience should have been surprised to hear him strike exactly the right tone.

By James Shield
Thursday, 01 August, 2019, 18:57
Oli McBurnie's official departure from the Liberty Stadium is expected to be confirmed soon: David Davies/PA Wire.

Although it has taken nearly three months of negotiation and a giant slice of their recruitment budget to trigger the centre-forward's release, Sheffield United knew McBurnie was destined for Bramall Lane the moment he admitted to being honoured and "flattered" by Chris Wilder's interest. With the Liberty Stadium's hierarchy acknowledging the same thing in private despite peddling a different message in public, Cooper enjoyed plenty of time to fine-tune his speech.

"It's a deal that's been done by the club and first of all we have to wish Oli well," the former England youth coach told the assembled journalists. "He's a fantastic person and a really good player.

"He's now got an opportunity to ply his trade in the Premier League so we're all very proud of him. We'd have loved it to be with Swansea City but at the same time, you have to wish him all the best."

Oli McBurnie has impressed at Championship level: Robbie Stephenson/JMP

Cooper, who was appointed earlier this summer when predecessor Graham Potter joined Brighton and Hove Albion, has acquitted himself well throughout a saga which has dominated his first month-and-a-half in post at the Liberty Stadium. The same can be said of McBurnie too. Despite giving the Liberty Stadium's board of directors a gentle nudge recently - "I must be doing something right if they (United) are interested" - he has remained a model of tact and respect.

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After travelling to South Yorkshire on Wednesday morning, when City accepted a revised offer from United of around £17m, it had been expected McBurnie would be unveiled this afternoon. But a series of logistical issues behind the scenes prompted a change to the schedule Wilder, in tandem with the player's representatives, initially devised. McBurnie is still expected to travel to France with his new team mates on Saturday, where they face Stade de Reims in a hastily arranged friendly. The fixture marks the end of United's pre-season programme, ahead of August 10th's PL opener against AFC Bournemouth.

Wilder has been targeting McBurnie since April, when United secured automatic promotion from the Championship. But his first contact with the player is thought to have come earlier this week, when City's hierarchy granted the 23-year-old permission to speak with United about a return to his native Yorkshire. Despite representing Scotland at international level, McBurnie hails from Leeds and progressed through Bradford City's youth system as a teenager. After inserting a sell-on clause into the deal which took him to Wales in 2015, they are due to receive a cheque for around £2.5m from McBurnie's previous employers.

Wilder has been active in the transfer market as United brace themselves for their first taste of top-flight football in over a decade. The majority of his rebuilding programme has focused on attacking positions, with Lys Mousset, Callum Robinson and Luke Freeman also being recruited in recent weeks. Mousset, a £10m signing from Bournemouth, and Robinson, who cost around £7m when he left Preston North End, are set to compete with McBurnie, Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick for places in Wilder's frontline. Freeman, previously of Queens Park Rangers, is set to operate in a deeper lying role. Despite stressing the importance of competition for places, the size of McBurnie’s fee, combined with the fact he scored 24 times in all competitions last term, means Wilder is likely to regard him as one of the first names on United’s team list. At the beginning of the campaign at least.

Oli McBurnie in action for Scotland: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

"I'm pleased with how things are coming on and how we're looking," Wilder said, before McBurnie's arrival. "We're working hard and I believe we've done some really good business, to compliment the very good players we've already got."