Revealed: Why Sheffield United's chances of keeping defender have increased
The message was clear.
Bayer Leverkusen, Rudi Voller reminded, were loaning Panos Retsos out to help him “get back to top form.” Not providing the centre-half with a six month long audition ahead of a possible move to Sheffield United.
But since Retsos’ arrival in South Yorkshire, a situation has developed which could, if his move proves a success, pave the way for a prolonged stay at Bramall Lane.
Soon after sanctioning his departure ahead of Friday’s transfer deadline, Voller, the Germans’ managing sporting director, began applying the finishing touches to a deal which saw them sign another young defender.
Edmond Tapsoba, a 21-year-old Burkina Faso international, was being unveiled at the BayArena within hours of Retsos’ exit. And, by handing him a contract until 2025, Leverkusen clearly view him as a long term project rather than a quick fix to fill the void created by his team mate’s switch to the Premier League.
“Edmond was a regular first choice at Guimaraes at the age of 20, Simon Rolfes, Voller’s assistant, said when the transfer was completed. “In addition to his defensive ability, he’s also very dangerous in front of goal.”
Intriguingly, Tapsoba’s qualities seem to mirror those which persuaded Leverkusen to invest nearly £20m in Retsos three years ago. The Bundesliga outfit are one of Europe’s go-to destinations for emerging young talent. But with Sven Bender a near permanent fixture at the heart of Peter Bosz’s rearguard, it will prove difficult for even a club of Leverkusen’s talents to persuade either Retsos or Tapsoba their development is best served by sitting on the bench.
If the later cements a place in Bosz’s plans, Leverkusen could be minded to accept any request from United to extend Retsos’ agreement.
Unlike Sander Berge, who was parachuted straight into United’s starting eleven at Crystal Palace last weekend, Retsos and his fellow loanee Richairo Zivkovic is likely to begin Sunday’s Premier League fixture with AFC Bournemouth on the bench.
Only runaway leaders Liverpool have kept more clean sheets than United this season. And only Jurgen Klopp’s side, who are 22 points clear at the top of the table, have conceded fewer goals.
With that in mind, coupled with the challenges of mastering United’s 3-5-2 system, it would be a major surprise if manager Chris Wilder elected to break up his back three for the meeting with Eddie Howe’s side.
Instead, barring injury, illness or suspension, Retsos’ full debut could come when United attempt to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals next month. They face Reading in the last 16.
“Panos lost a whole year through injuries,” Voller said, referring to the thigh problems which stunted his progress last term. “And it’s important for him to play now.
“The Premier League club Sheffield United offer the highest level for him to get back to top form.”