Sheffield United boss reveals conversation with Iliman Ndiaye which proves how well they get along
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“I was sounding off at him a bit, going on about something that had happened during the warm-up,” Heckingbottom tells The Star, detailing an exchange between the pair ahead of Monday’s game against Birmingham City. “Sometimes, I might get a bit forceful about things because I’m competitive, I like to get in the zone. But as he came off the pitch, Iliman tapped me on the arm and said ‘Don’t worry gaffer. I know why you say these things.’ That was nice to hear.”
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Ndiaye, who finished a season which saw United achieve promotion with 15 goals and 10 assists after creating their second of the game at St Andrews, understands what makes football supporters tick. His vast repertoire of flicks, tricks and exquisite touches have thrilled followers of Heckingbottom’s team over the past 10 months. But increasingly, perhaps crucially given the stages the youngster’s advisors envisage him performing on, he gets what managers and coaches want too. Two months ago, as United edged closer towards securing second place in the Championship table, Heckingbottom admitted he could “be harsh” on Ndiaye when examining his work without the ball. The words they shared before what proved a comfortable 2-1 victory in the West Midlands confirm the 23-year-old appreciates Heckingbottom’s brutally frank and honest approach.
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“Iliman knows what I think of him,” he continues. “He knows I love him to bits and want the best for him. If I’m ever hard on him, it’s only because I know not only how good he is now but how good he can be. I want the best for him because, not only is he a wonderful footballer, but he’s also a wonderful lad too.”
With Ndiaye set to become a free agent at the end of the forthcoming campaign and Milan, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur - who succumbed to one of his trademark solo strikes during a recent FA Cup tie at Bramall Lane - all reportedly admirers, United could be presented with an agonising decision to make later this summer. Given his contractual situation, and with those representing him acutely aware of their client’s earning power, Ndiaye’s market value is only likely to diminish during the closing stages of his present deal. Despite being set for a bumper payday following their return to the highest level, United’s difficult financial situation could tempt their hierarchy to sell in order to alleviate pressure on their budgets. Privately, however, Heckingbottom and his coaching staff hope Ndiaye can be persuaded to see out his existing agreement and help United gain a foothold in the top-flight.
“The goal James (McAtee) got at City, and others recently that Iliman has created or been involved in, they’ve come from him pressing and being as effective out of possession as we know he can be brilliant in it,” Heckingbottom says. “He knows, whenever we’ve been critical of him, it’s because we want the best for him because we value him as a player and a person.”