Sheffield United: Filip Uremovic's complex journey from Rubin Kazan to Bramall Lane

It started with a phone call, from a friendly football agent, aware of the fitness issues which have blighted Sheffield United’s defence.

Thursday, 31st March 2022, 10:28 pm
Updated Friday, 1st April 2022, 7:31 am

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And it ended, when Paul Heckingbottom realised the deal being proposed involved a player already known to him, with Filip Uremovic arriving at Bramall Lane.

The Croatia defender, who is still waiting to discover if he will make his United debut on Saturday during what promises to be an awkward assignment against Stoke, joined Heckingbottom’s side on a short-term basis last week - taking advantage of a FIFA directive allowing foreign footballers in Russia to temporarily suspend their contracts following that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

France's forward Kylian Mbappe (R) vies for the ball with Croatia's defender Filip Uremovic during the UEFA Nations League Group A3 football match between Croatia and France at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb on October 14, 2020. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

Despite the governing body’s ruling, Uremovic’s journey to South Yorkshire still required the 25-year-old and his representatives to negotiate their way through a complex web of politics, diplomacy and sporting regulations; drafted, it must be remembered, against the backdrop of a war which is estimated to have cost around a thousand civilian lives.

Hence why, despite his delight at securing the services of a centre-half United had admired from afar for several seasons, Heckingbottom was keen not to sound too triumphant when discussing Uremovic this afternoon.

“There were things getting put about, about the possibility of being able to bring in people from over there because of what’s going on,” Heckingbottom told The Star. “But in all honesty, not much was happening.

Sheffield United's Paul Heckingbottom with Filip Uremovic

“Then, an agent put it to me. They called up and reckoned it might be possible to do something. That was what set in motion the chain of events.”

Previously of Dinamo Zagreb and Olimpija Ljubljana, Uremovic has spent the past four seasons representing Rubin Kazan; the two time Russian Premier League champions based in the Republic of Tatarstan. His performers there, which eventually persuaded Leonid Slutsky to hand him the captain’s armband, first captured the imagination of United’s recruitment gurus “a couple of years ago”, according to Heckingbottom. But, he told the club’s official website following Uremovic’s unveiling last week, the figures involved “meant he was out of our reach.”

“Our scouting lads had followed his pathway for a while,” Heckingbottom continued, picking up the story, after confirming Uremovic has now been introduced to United’s first team squad. “We pushed it and pushed it after discovering this possibility. But still no one was really committing to saying we could do it - whether than be with the situation or with the Brexit regulations.

“Fortunately, when we did manage to get the green light, we knew that (getting a work permit) wouldn’t be a problem because of his calibre; Filip's played at the highest level.”

Capped six times by his country, Uremovic is scheduled to train with United for a second time tomorrow despite still waiting for international clearance. With Charlie Goode, Jayden Bogle and Chris Basham among those set to miss the trip to Staffordshire, Heckingbottom would like to be able to call upon his services as united, fifth in the table with eight matches remaining, attempt to qualify for the play-offs.

“He collect his visa but we didn’t know how that would be handled, because of the refugee situation and other people trying to come here,” Heckingbottom said. “He got treated the same as everyone else. Credit to everyone for being able to get someone of his pedigree in.”