Sheffield United: Why Luke Freeman's arrival represents the continuation of an important trend at Bramall Lane

Despite the clamour for new signings, another set of fresh faces to follow Luke Freeman through Bramall Lane's entrance door, Chris Wilder has explained why it is imperative that Sheffield United tread carefully through this summer's transfer market.

By James Shield
Thursday, 04 July, 2019, 17:57
Sheffield United's players have returned to training: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Earlier this week, after more than a month of discussion, deliberation and sometimes delicate negotiations, United completed their first piece of business since being promoted from the Championship when Luke Freeman was unveiled in South Yorkshire.

The midfielder, who will perform alongside Phil Jagielka next season after the defender agreed an emotional return to South Yorkshire exactly 12 years since departing for Everton, is expected to be the first of several players Wilder acquires from EFL clubs as he prepares for the start of the Premier League campaign. It is a policy decision - targeting the best talent the second tier has to offer rather than proven top-flight names - which is partly borne out of necessity. But, as he attempts to straddle the financial gulf separating United from those teams already established at the highest level, Wilder acknowledges it has been influenced by design too as he attempts to guard against making the type of expensive mistakes which contributed to Fulham's downfall last term.

"Our market is one (player) in the Premier League," the United manager said, referring to where he expects to source the majority of his players. "Maybe two. That's a fact. That's where we are.

"Players have to tick a lot of boxes. It's a small market but we're an exciting club, I believe, to come to. We can offer Premier League football, whether that's for a year, for two years, for five years or for 10. Obviously we want it to be longer, for forever."

With an estimated £170m set to be deposited into their bank account following last season's second-placed finish - broadcasting, solidarity and commercial payments comprising the majority of that amount - United have placed a significantly improved budget at Wilder's disposal as he looks to strengthen his squad. But the 51-year-old, who has now broken the club's transfer record in each of the last two summers, will still find it difficult to compete with sides who, despite being no bigger than United in terms of stature, have carved themselves a niche at the highest level.

AFC Bournemouth, where United will officially return to the top-flight following a 12 year absence on August 10, regularly spend over £10m on players. The same goes for Brighton and Hove Albion, while 12 months ago Burnley lavished nearly £30m on new arrivals.

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Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder wants to limit the risks in the transfer market: Dave Howarth/PA Wire.

Freeman, whose performances for Queens Park Rangers have proven he is worthy of a crack at PL football, fits the profile Wilder has used to dictate his recruitment since taking charge in 2016. It requires those seeking moves to South Yorkshire to demonstrate they possess both character, the potential to improve and a re-sale value before their names are scribbled onto his wanted list.

"Enda Stevens, John Egan; the majority of our signings are lads we believe are going to spend a number of years with us," Wilder continued. "It's going to be tough to get what we want to get in, with what we have been given. "But as always, we want to maximise what we've got and the number is bigger than in a long, long while."

With the margins for error at elite level excruciatingly slim, it is vital United make sensible rather than reckless investments. Purchasing players from a division where their scouting systems are already entrenched reduces the level of risk and, importantly for Wilder, ensures every new arrival has a point to prove. Oli McBurnie and Neal Maupay, of Swansea City and Brentford respectively, fit into that particular category while Dean Henderson, who spent last season on loan with United, has spoken about how representing them in the PL would press his claims for a senior England cap. The goalkeeper is expected to return after agreeing a new contract at Old Trafford, even though he has been told to apply for a Chinese visa should Manchester United insist he attends their pre-season tour which includes a fixture in Shanghai.

Describing how the challenge of pitting his wits against some of the biggest names in the business had appealed to Freeman, Wilder said: "It's been well-documented that a lot of clubs have looked at him. The obvious thing is we've got that Premier League carrot. I don't want him to be satisfied with one season. We want, the same as everyone else, for him to look to kick-on."

Sheffield United won promotion last season: Dave Howarth/PA Wire.
Luke Freeman has arrived from Queens Park Rangers: Bradley Collyer/PA Wire.