A large portion of the squad Paul Heckingbottom inherited in November are set to become free agents at the end of the Championship campaign and, although the new manager has revealed talks to extend some of those agreements began before Christmas, he did not confirm which ones.
Having forced his way back into the starting eleven following United’s return to a back three, Chris Basham is likely to be among those invited to remain at Bramall Lane next term – particularly as hopes of snatching James Hill appear to fade. But others, including centre-forward Lys Mousset, appear to be in a more precarious position. And it is these players United fear could negotiate moves to clubs outside of the FA’s jurisdiction before the deadline for permanent signings and then move on for nothing when their registrations expire.
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Chris Wilder, Heckingbottom’s predecessor, suspected Lundstram of doing something similar 12 months ago when The Star reported the midfielder’s name had been unofficially circulated among Premier League and EFL teams when United admitted defeat in their battle to keep him. Lundstram eventually joined Rangers, who had first made their interest known just before Christmas. That meant United received no financial return on a player they had acquired for around £450,000 and whose value had soared after helping them reach the top-flight in 2019.
Mousset cost more than 20 times that amount when he arrived from AFC Bournemouth later that summer, excelling at the highest level before losing both his form, fitness and discipline following the first national lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Having shown only fleeting glimpses of his stellar talent since, it would be a surprise if the Frenchman is invited to prolong his stay at United with officials there minded to try and recoup some of their initial £10m outlay now.
However, they will have noted that all of the interest in Mousset has so far come from Scotland or overseas, with Braga, Heart of Midlothian and CSKA Moscow among the names linked with him in the past. A number of Turkish outfits are also known to have monitored his situation at United. But the collapse of the lira is expected to subdue spending in the Super Lig.
If Heckingbottom decides Mousset does not fit into his future plans, United would prefer to sell him over the next few weeks rather than see him walk out of the door for nothing in June. But those tasked with overseeing the 25-year-old’s career will be aware that potential buyers will be in a position to pay their client more if any proposed switch is delayed.
With Heckingbottom warning about the dangers of “uncertainty” during a spell in caretaker charge last season, it explains why the former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian chief is keen to address the contract situation at United as quickly as possible - particularly after overseeing a dramatic change in fortunes on the pitch.
United will travel to Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Wolverhampton Wanderers searching for their fifth straight win in all competitions, after beating Championship rivals Reading, Bristol City, Cardiff City and Fulham before Christmas.