Sheffield United: The definitive guide to The Blades' plans for the transfer window
It was two months ago, following a hard-fought but pivotal victory over Leeds at Elland Road, when Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder and his coaching staff first began planning seriously for Premier League football.
There were still plenty of points to play for. The promotion their squad went on to achieve remained far from assured. However, aware the transfer market was about to open, the men responsible for plotting Bramall Lane's latest recruitment drive decided time was of the essence. Better to start now, even if their work proved a waste of time, they all resolved.
Over the course of the next five weeks, fuelled by countless cups of coffee and glasses of mineral water, Wilder, his assistant Alan Knill and head of recruitment Paul Mitchell identified a number of potential targets who possessed both the necessary skill-sets and were likely to be attainable. But the trio's first task was formulating a profile to which anyone being considered for a move to South Yorkshire had to fit into. There would be no exceptions.
It is that checklist which ultimately decided which names made the wanted-list they presented to United's hierarchy and those which were eventually discarded. Decisions made then continue to govern the club's search for fresh talent now.
All of the players Wilder is actually chasing, rather than some of the more fanciful names he has been linked with of late, are physically robust, athletic and possess as yet untapped potential. Two new centre-forwards, following the departure of Gary Madine and Scott Hogan at the end of last term, are one of his top priorities. Swansea City's Oli McBurnie and Neal Maupay of Brentford would be United's preferences although others, including Middlesbrough's Britt Assombalonga, are also known to have been monitored. At the other end of the pitch, securing Dean Henderson's release from Manchester United, albeit on a temporary basis, is another aim. The goalkeeper, who impressed on loan for Wilder's side last term, has made political noises about remaining at Old Trafford. Privately, however, he is convinced that returning to United is best for his career.
With seven weeks to go until the start of the season, concerns have been expressed by some supporters about United's lack of activity in the transfer market. The battle for sole control between co-owners Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, which is set to be decided by a High Court judge later this year, has been cited as a factor behind the lack of new arrivals. But, even though it has undoubtedly caused him much frustration, Wilder is understood to be unconcerned by the delay. Indeed, sources close to the former United defender confirm he expected to scheduling of the Champions League final and European under-21 Championships to mean the window would creak rather than swing open. Ignoring a flurry of purchases by fellow top-flight new boys Aston Villa, his suspicions have proved well founded.
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With many of the 51-year-old's counterparts either away on holiday or travelling to watch Aidy Boothroyd's Young Lions compete in Italy and San Marino, United's administration department has found it logistically difficult to arrange either face to face meetings or telephone conferences with powerbrokers elsewhere. They are not alone, as events elsewhere demonstrate.
But the areas Wilder would like to strengthen remains unchanged. Given the demands of the 3-5-2 system he employs, the 51-year-old is also mulling over the possibility of increasing United's options at wing-back. It is something he contemplated doing midway through the previous campaign, when an approach for Chelsea's Todd Kane, then on loan at Hull City, was mooted. It failed to materialise, with midfielder Kieran Dowell being chosen instead. But his presence explains why Queens Park Rangers' Luke Freeman has also attracted admiring glances from United in the past. However, reaching the highest level means they now possess the financial clout to potentially secure the signature of someone who, like Dowell, can perform a variety of different roles. Agents acting on behalf of Antonio Valencia, released by Manchester United earlier this summer, have also made noises about organising talks between Wilder and their client. Of course, when other top-flight teams begin reshaping their own squads, fresh possibilities could emerge.
Despite only being allowed to broker two loans next season, as opposed to eight when they were in the English Football League, United view the temporary transfer market as another potential source of new blood. Barring any unforeseen complications, one of those will be Henderson. Which leaves another space in the outfield they could attempt to fill.