Sheffield United could lift unofficial 'ban' as selection issues ease

Sheffield United could lift the unofficial ban on loaning out any of their young players when the injury issues which have affected Paul Heckingbottom’s squad begin to ease.
Oliver Arblaster is one of Sheffield United's most promising youngsters: Simon Bellis / SportimageOliver Arblaster is one of Sheffield United's most promising youngsters: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Oliver Arblaster is one of Sheffield United's most promising youngsters: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Second in the Championship table and seven points ahead of third-placed Middlesbrough following yesterday’s win over Watford, United refused to allow the likes of Oliver Arblaster, Andre Brooks and Sai Sachdev to leave Bramall Lane during last month’s transfer window in order to try and protect their top two status. Will Osula’s supposedly season long agreement with Derby County was also terminated in order to bolster the options at the manager’s disposal when it emerged his employers, having failed to keep up with their repayments on previous deals, were about to be banned from registering any new signings by the English Football League.

With Enda Stevens, Billy Sharp, Rhys Norrington-Davies, Rhian Brewster and George Baldock among those to miss the game against Slaven Bilic’s side - although the latter returned to full-time training last week - Heckingbottom decided to keep the most promising graduates of United’s development programme at the club despite acknowledging regular first team football would benefit their careers.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom will review the situation: Simon Bellis / SportimageSheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom will review the situation: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom will review the situation: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
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But speaking ahead of Wednesday’s FA Cup tie against Tottenham Hotspur, he conceded the situation could be reviewed if some of his senior professionals are cleared to leave the treatment room. Teams in the National League are still able to recruit from the EFL, as they are subject to different regulations.

“No, not at the minute, we can’t be thinking about that,” Heckingbottom told The Star. “But when we get people back, that might give us the opportunity to see if we can get some of them out just for the experience.”

“There’s a big thing about the size of our squad,” he added. “But really, if you look at it, it’s not that huge. Not at all. We’ve got a lot of lads who have come through (the system) here and that’s great.”

Sheffield United's Oliver Arblaster (left) and Cardiff City's Niels Nkounkou during the Sky Bet Championship match in November: Simon Galloway/PA Wire.Sheffield United's Oliver Arblaster (left) and Cardiff City's Niels Nkounkou during the Sky Bet Championship match in November: Simon Galloway/PA Wire.
Sheffield United's Oliver Arblaster (left) and Cardiff City's Niels Nkounkou during the Sky Bet Championship match in November: Simon Galloway/PA Wire.

Arblaster, Brooks and Sachdev have all made appearances for United this term. Before the World Cup break, which began in November, nearly half of those under Heckingbottom’s command were sidelined due to fitness issues, with Oli McBurnie also forced to play through the pain barrier to help United cope. John Fleck and Ciaran Clark, on loan from Newcastle, have recently been declared available for selection while Daniel Jebbison's return from suspension proved timely when Sharp was forced to limp-out of United’s meeting with Swansea City earlier this month.

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“The young lads are always going to get opportunities here,” Heckingbottom said. “They know that and at times, I genuinely don’t think people realise how lucky they are to be here because we’ll always be ready to hand them those. They might be only one game away from getting another one, who knows?”

“If it is best for us, then they’ll be staying here,” he added. “We’re not going to do anything that weakens us or might not help us try and get to where we want to be. But if we are in a position where we can look to get them some regular games between now and the end of the season, then that’s something of course we’d consider doing. It has to be right for everyone though.”