Sheffield United: After catching the eye in Spain, young midfielder is brought back in from the cold by Slavisa Jokanovic
Visitors to Sheffield United’s pre-season training camp in Spain, where Slavisa Jokanovic assembled his squad soon after taking charge, left the complex on the outskirts of Estepona visibly excited about the potential of one young player at the Serb’s disposal.
The likes of Kacper Lopata, Zak Brunt and Daniel Jebbison all impressed during their week long stay in the Costa del Sol resort, quickly grasping the methods being employed by their new manager and adjusting comfortably to life among their senior colleagues.
But it was Iliman Ndiaye, the 21-year-old midfielder, who captured the imagination of the small band of observers invited beyond the Covid-19 cordon which had been erected around the Arroyo Enmedio’s pitches. Clearly capable, Ndiaye was also consistent in terms of his application, performance levels and ability to quickly grasp what was being asked of him.
Nearly two months later - and five since making his senior debut during a Premier League game at Leicester City - Ndiaye is preparing for this weekend’s visit to Luton Town having just appeared for only the second time in United colours. Rather than concerns about his ability, Ndiaye’s lack of game time can be attributed to a contract dispute - first revealed by The Star soon after his breakthrough moment in the Midlands - and the pressure applied on coaching staff not to select him until it was resolved. Having been appointed in July, Joanovic’s decision to bring Ndiaye on when Derby County visited South Yorkshire in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night is hopefully a sign the hierarchy’s hardline stance is softening and that progress - after talks broke down towards the end of last term - is finally being made.
Sources within the game claim that, although an official directive was never issued, coaching staff placed in charge following Chris Wilder’s exit in March were made aware that at least one member of United’s hierarchy felt Ndiaye should not be selected again until he accepted the new deal he was offered soon after featuring against City. Members of Ndiaye’s inner circle had urged him to reject the proposed deal, believing the sums involved did not reflect his potential. A counter offer was made, which the Frenchman's representatives felt was reasonable. But rather than trigger the start of a negotiation process, it instead saw him overlooked until Jokanovic’s arrival coincided with a thawing in relations.
Ndiaye, who joined United from Boreham Wood two years ago, is set to become a free agent next summer. But his outing against County suggests talks have resumed, with Jokanovic possibly instructing his employers to rebuild the lines of communication with Ndiaye and his agent. A number of clubs in both the Premier League and the Championship are known to have been monitoring the situation closely and, with Jebbison now attracting interest from Everton, Aston Villa and Leeds, United will not want to see another graduate of their development programme linked with a move away from South Yorkshire.
Although Ndiaye is unlikely to start at Kenilworth Road, he could be in line to make his full debut when United meet Southampton in the third round of the knockout competition next month.