Sheffield United drop a possible hint about duo's futures next season
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But as discussions about which members of Bramall Lane’s promotion winning squad are offered new contracts begin in earnest, assistant manager Stuart McCall has indicated that coaching staff are minded to retain the services of both John Fleck and Enda Stevens ahead of the new Premier League campaign.
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Pressed by journalists ahead of United’s win over Preston North End about this summer’s recruitment programme, McCall admitted there are unlikely to be “wholesale changes” to the options at Heckingbottom’s disposal despite acknowledging the need “to strengthen”. However, as he continued to outline the kind of work coaching staff hope to undertake, McCall made an oblique reference to Fleck and Stevens which could be interpreted as a sign that the duo’s experience and standing are still highly regarded behind the scenes despite their recent fitness issues.
“There’s a few here who have been unfortunate with injuries,” McCall said, having earlier noted how the duo’s efforts to “enjoy a concerted period of training” had been stymied by a congested fixture schedule. “I don’t think for a minute there will be wholesale changes. And it’s important to remember there are lads here who can step up.”
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Despite guaranteeing themselves a £170m pay-out over the next three years by reaching the highest level, Heckingbottom is unlikely to be granted permission to spend lavishly in the transfer market this summer given the pressure on Bramall Lane’s finances. Owner Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud held a video conference call with the manager before the meeting with Ryan Lowe’s side, having stressed he is still minded to sell his shareholding following a series of off-the-pitch issues this term. Heckingbottom was prevented from drafting in any new signings during the January window because United had been placed under an embargo by the English Football League. That has since been lifted but, during a briefing with reporters to rubbish claims they were on the brink of administration soon after that news broke, chief executive Steve Bettis did admit that United had been deliberately stretching their payment schedules with a number of external suppliers.
The parachute payments his employers received after being relegated from the PL two seasons ago were used to create a facility with an Australian bank, which immediately granted United access to further funding.
Dozy Mmobuosi, whose bid to purchase Prince Abdullah’s stake appeared to be on the brink of collapse following the end of his exclusivity period, has since confirmed he is pressing ahead with his attempt to gain control of United.
Seventeen of the players at Heckingbottom’s disposal were on United’s books when they were last in the top-flight but 10 of these, including Fleck and Stevens, are set to become free agents. Fleck was on target during the 4-1 victory over Preston.
“You’ve got to get a balance,” McCall said, referring to team building. “A lot of these lads have represented the club outstandingly well. A few have been unfortunate with injuries. Flecky and Enda, haven’t been able to get a good period of training. It's going to be about a squad. If you’ve got ones who are experienced at doing it, the better.”