Sheffield United could hand youngster a new contract to ward off interested clubs
Sheffield United could choose to reward Iliman Ndiaye with a new contract following his recent progress, despite still being without a permanent manager following Chris Wilder’s departure last month.
After making his senior debut during Paul Heckingbottom’s first match in caretaker charge - a visit to Leicester City … weeks ago - Ndiaye has developed into one of the most promising young players to emerge from United’s youth system since the club’s promotion to the top-flight.
Although United’s two year stay in the Premier League is about to come to an end - they are preparing for Saturday’s game against Wolverhampton Wanderers 18 points adrift of safety with only seven remaining - Ndiaye’s emergence has been one of the few positive things to come out of a season which has seen United fail to build on their success last term, suffer a catalogue of injuries and also part company with Wilder, who oversaw their rapid climb fr0om the third to the first tier of English football.
With Ndiaye signing his first contract with United in 2019, following three years at Boreham Wood, it would be a major surprise if officials at Bramall Lane do not approach the midfielder’s representatives in order to negotiate a pay increase and improved conditions for their client.
Although Heckingbottom recently warned United’s next generation not to “think you’ve made it” following a handful of appearances in the first team squad, a board of directors which seems destined to take a more hands-on role when it comes to deciding and shaping sporting strategy will be aware Ndiaye’s recent achievements have attracted attention from elsewhere.
Rewarding him with an enhanced salary would be a statement of intent; both to the player himself and also his admirers elsewhere.
United slipped to their 25th defeat in 31 outings when they were beaten by Arsenal on Sunday; Mikel Arteta’s men brushing them aside with second-half goals from Gabriel Martinelli and Alexandre Lacazette, after the Frenchman had given the Londoners the lead before the interval.
Despite being named among the substitutes, Ndiaye’s failure to appear after the break disappointed the army of supporters who are calling for United to inject some fresh blood into a starting eleven which is growing increasingly dispirited as the campaign draws to a close.
Heckingbottom has pledged to give many of those he worked with at age-group level opportunities to impress since stepping into the role Wilder vacated following a series of disagreements behind the scenes.
However, speaking before Arsenal made the journey north, he warned them his ties to the Steelphalt Academy youth programme would not see them granted any favours.
“If you are involved, then that is going to be on merit,” Heckingbottom said, before recounting a story from his own career with neighbours Barnsley. “Whatever you get in football, it has to be earned.
“There is no other way to do it, that’s how it has to be every single day.”
“I remember an old youth team coach there telling the lads when they came in (to the first team) that they hadn’t ‘made it’ at all,” he continued. “He used to say, ‘you haven’t done that until you’ve played 80 or a 100 so times, in a few different systems or under a few different managers.
“That way, you’ve shown you can do more than one thing, that you can stay the course and keep doing the right things and also that you are capable of impressing more than just one person. You have persuaded more than one person that you should be in there, someone probably with different views and ideas.
“I always remember that and I think most people can understand where he was coming from.”
Although Ndiaye has yet to feature again since his cameo at the KP Stadium, a number of factors suggest he could appear against Wolves. Despite his imminent departure and sharp downturn in form, John Lundstram has been an almost permanent presence in United’s side of late.
Sander Berge’s hamstring issues have undoubtedly made him more difficult to rest or drop. But the mistake which presented Arsenal with their second strike of last weekend’s contest - an effort Heckingbottom later conceded had “taken the wind out” of United’s sales - a tipping point could have been reached. Not a like for like replacement, Ndiaye could nevertheless step in for Lundstram if Heckingbottom and his assistant Jason Tindall decide a change is necessary.
With centre-forward Antwoine Hackford being granted his debut by Wilder and others, including Kyron Gordon and Zak Brunt pushing through, United can at least console themselves, as they prepare for a return to the Championship, that they have an array of gifted hopefuls on their hands.
Rhys Norrington-Davies, now a Wales international, has entered the closing stages of a loan spell with Stoke City while Regan Slater is impressing in League One with Hull City.
Gordon, a centre-half, could find openings more difficult to come by over the coming month as John Egan makes his return from a toe problem and Chris Basham continues to undergo treatment for a muscle complaint.
However like Nidiaye, United could also be forced to invite him to the negotiating table with Liverpool and Manchester United reportedly monitoring his situation in South Yorkshire.
Gordon first rose to prominence when he was drafted into the matchday squad for United’s FA Cup tie at Bristol Rovers in January; a fixture which saw them win for the first time since July.