Sheffield United: The tactics behind the campaign to capture Oli McBurnie

Sheffield United are convinced their campaign to prise Oli McBurnie away from Swansea City will achieve the desired result after the centre-forward, Chris Wilder's leading transfer target, changed the dynamic of the battle for his services.

Friday, 26th July 2019, 5:54 pm
Updated Sunday, 28th July 2019, 10:23 pm
Oli McBurnie: Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Officials at Bramall Lane have entered into a war of attrition with the Welsh club, after seeing a £15m bid rejected earlier this month. But McBurnie's admission that he is "flattered" by their overtures - having spent weeks side-stepping questions about Wilder's interest - has persuaded them not to make any major adjustments. Instead, following time-honoured tactics, representatives acting on behalf of the United manager have resolved to simply leave their offer on the table; increasing the pressure on City to reconsider.

The decision, taken at a recent summit meeting called to discuss recruitment strategy, was influenced by McBurnie's refusal to provide his employers with a guarantee he will remain at their disposal next term during a recent series of interviews with the regional media. Rather than reject the possibility of a move out of hand, he instead chose to admit "I must being doing something right" given Wilder's determination to secure his release.

McBurnie's comments, despite being portrayed as only a subtle shift of position, were enough to convince United they have already won the battle for the player's heart and mind. So, rather than tempting City with a hugely improved financial proposal, Wilder has instructed United's football administration department to make only minor adjustments or simply hang-fire. It is a ploy designed to both test City's resolve to retain McBurnie and encourage the Scotland international to express his wishes in more forthright terms behind the scenes.

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Former United chief executive Trevor Birch, now a member of City's board, is famous within footballing circles for driving particularly hard bargains. But the knowledge that McBurnie attracted by the prospect of representing Wilder's squad in the Premier League, combined with the need to sign a replacement should he depart, has reduced Birch's leverage.

Despite re-entering the race for McBurnie's services after being promoted from the Championship, United have been casting admiring glances in the 23-year-old's direction since the end of the 2017/18 campaign. Then, with City embroiled in what proved an unsuccessful battle for top-flight survival, they are thought to have received an undertaking that McBurnie would be sold if they stayed-up. However, when Steve Cooper's predecessor Carlos Carvalhal failed to guide them to safety, City's stance changed.

McBurnie scored 24 goals in all competitions last season, including two against United whose preparations for August 10th's visit to AFC Bournemouth continue at Stade de Reims this weekend.

Former Sheffield United chief executive Trevor Birch.
Oli McBurnie: Robbie Stephenson/JMP