Sheffield United: Can Iliman Ndiaye ensure The Blades don't regret missing out on Championship midfielder?
A little over 12 months ago, Sheffield United decided to abandon their pursuit of John Swift after failing to persuade Reading to lower their £7m valuation of a player whose contract is set to expire next summer.
Viewed by Slavisa Jokanovic’s predecessor Chris Wilder as the perfect replacement for John Lundstram, the former Chelsea midfielder used back-channel diplomacy to let it be known he was interested in joining a club which had just finished ninth in the Premier League. But with directors at the Madejski Stadium refusing to negotiate Swift’s asking price, and United calculating he was worth around half of what they were demanding, a concrete bid never materialised and Swift remained in Berkshire.
One year on and with Veljko Paunovic’s side set to meet United in six weeks time, Jokanovic’s employers might wish they had decided to up their offer rather than pursue what proved to be an ill-fated charm offensive with Lundstram and his representatives.
The Liverpudlian now plays for Rangers, having moved to Glasgow on a free transfer. Swift, meanwhile, is now being courted by Wolverhampton Wanderers and Crystal Palace after scoring seven goals and claiming five assists in his last 11 Championship games.
Sheffield United’s ‘midfield sticking plaster’
Morgan Gibbs-White, who joined United on loan from Wolves four months after they were relegated from the top-flight in chaotic fashion, has netted on three and created another two since arriving at Bramall Lane. But because he is scheduled to return to Molineux at the end of the campaign, the 21-year-old’s presence has only applied a sticking plaster across a vacancy which still exists within United’s squad - someone capable of regularly creating and converting chances from central positions and who is tied to a permanent agreement.
Striker Billy Sharp has been directly involved in seven of United’s goals since August but is approaching his 36th birthday.
Jokanovic, who took charge after a series of poor performances on the pitch and political issues off it prevented United from building upon their success following 2019’s promotion, will hope Iliman Ndiaye can fill the void on a long-term basis after granting him an opportunity to impress at senior level.
The youngster, whose performances during a training camp in Spain persuaded the Serb to break the unofficial ban which had been placed upon his involvement following another contract issue, confirmed his potential by finding the back of the net twice after being named in the starting eleven for last month’s 6-2 thrashing of Peterborough.
He also provided the pass which allowed Gibbs-White to write his name on the scoresheet on his United debut.
But Ndiaye, who could make his eighth appearance of the season when Stoke City visit South Yorkshire this weekend, is bound to be inconsistent as he settles into his new first team role. Jokanovic, however, will persevere after reminding “personality” not age dictates his selection strategy and being encouraged by the Frenchman’s ability to cope with responsibility.
Both Ndiaye and Gibbs-White are expected to be involved against City, as United look to begin gnawing away at the six point gap which separates them from the play-off positions. Michael O’Neill’s men are fourth, with Tommy Smith their most influential performer having created four of the 15 goals they have scored in the competition so far this term.