Sheffield United: Why Ben Osborn has all the hallmarks of a perfect Blades signing
After being spotted posing for pictures in his new team's colours around 12 hours earlier, Ben Osborn's move from Nottingham Forest to Sheffield United barely raised an eyebrow among supporters when it was officially confirmed earlier this morning.
The midfielder, Chris Wilder's sixth close season signing, agreed a long-term contract at Bramall Lane following a series of detailed and well-documented discussions between the two clubs. But his arrival in South Yorkshire marked the end of a 12 month long process which saw United first identify him as a potential acquisition last summer. Indeed, given the criteria they used to assess Osborn's suitability before adding his name to Wilder's shopping list, it is possible to describe the former England youth international as the poster boy for a recruitment strategy which has helped United cliimb from the third to the first tier of English football in double quick time.
Aged 24 and already an established performer at Championship level, Osborn satisfies Wilder's appetite for low-maintenance footballers capable of performing a variety of roles. However, he also fulfils two more important requirements; durability and, given the manager's aversion to churns of personnel, the potential to spend the next five or so years in South Yorkshire. Possibly more if he settles.
"He's been a fantastic player for Forest in the Championship and I know for certain that two or three clubs in January were sniffing around to take him," Wilder said. "He's got a lot of attributes that will help us, going forward, and we're looking forward to him pulling on a red and white shirt."
Osborn, who graduated from Forest's youth system before making his debut under Sabri Lamouchi's predecessor Stuart Pearce, commanded a fee of around £5m when he left the City Ground. Although that represents a decent return for his former club - Osborn was scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the forthcoming campaign - United believe his value will rise with Premier League experience. That means, even if he is lured away at some point, Wilder should have money to spend on a replacement without going cap in hand to the board. It is another of insulating the football department from the politicking which, with co-owners Kevin McCabe and HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud recently facing each other at the High Court, has been rife behind the scenes.
The timing of United's swoop for Osborn reveals another important feature of the recruitment strategy Paul Mitchell, their chief talent spotter, devised after being appointed in 2016. Data, relating to performance and fitness levels, is collected on a hundreds of players whose career trajectories are on an upward curve. This is cross referenced with information on their contract status which, should Wilder elect to make an approach, helps him decide exactly when to strike. Although there have been a few duff calls, it is noticeable that United's most successful purchases come when they strictly adhere to Mitchell's methodology.
"Ben is an intelligent footballer, he plays a number of positions and has got that attitude that he will slot in wherever," Wilder, who also confirmed the return of goalkeeper Dean Henderson yesterday. "But he'll want to nail down a position and he's going to put enormous pressure on a few of our players."
Osborn, who joined Forest from neighbours Derby County as a youngster, is expected to provide competition and back up for Oliver Norwood, John Fleck and John Lundstram following their promotion winning exploits last term. After progressing through the ranks in the East Midlands, he was named Forest's player of the season in 2018 and has been capped by his country at under-18, under-19 and under-20 levels. Wilder will assess Osborn's fitness before naming his side for tomorrow's friendly against Barnsley. Fellow new arrivals Luke Freeman, Callum Robinson, Ravel Morrison, Phil Jagielka, Lys Mousset and Henderson could all feature at Oakwell.
"We are delighted that he is a Sheffield United player," Wilder said.