Morgan Gibbs-White is unlikely to be back at Sheffield United next season. Which, as one social media user responding to the tweet published on the club’s account conceded, will leave a dirty great hole in Paul Heckingbottom’s squad.
Given the attacking midfielder’s performances since arriving on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers nine months ago, most people suspected that United would have to reach the Premier League in order to stand a chance of retaining his services. And even then, with Bruno Lage making it clear he wanted Gibbs-White back at Molineux in January before relenting following a series of pleas from the player himself, they would probably have had a fight on their hands.
Gibbs-White - “Once a Blade, always a Blade,” according to Bramall Lane’s in-house PR team - is simply too good for the Championship and, on the evidence of last season, probably the lower reaches of the top-flight too. Those six words, written below a photograph of him celebrating one of the 12 goals he scored after landing in South Yorkshire, confirmed Heckingbottom and his employers, still licking their wounds following Tuesday’s penalty shoot-out defeat at Nottingham Forest, agree.
The next step
So what next for Gibbs-White, whose partnership with Iliman Ndiaye helped drag United into the end-of-term knockouts following an injury to their talisman Billy Sharp? And also United, whose dream of an immediate return to the top-flight died following a heroic display at the City Ground where, after trailing 3-1 on aggregate, they took the semi-final tie to extra-time and then spot-kicks?
Wolves, where his contract still has two years left to run, would ordinarily look to shoehorn him into their starting eleven. But with the system Lage favours not suiting his talents, Gibbs-White could be sold. Forest, whose manager Steve Cooper took him to Swansea City following their spell together with England under-17’s, might be tempted to lodge an enquiry if Forest beat Huddersfield Town in the promotion decider at Wembley. But with Milan reportedly taking note of his displays for United, it seems bigger stages beckon if Wolves decide to cash-in. The Italians have previous when it comes to signing youngsters from these shores. And Stefano Pioli’s tactical set-up, which involves banking three forwards behind a lone striker, certainly suits.
Together with Ndiaye, the most obvious successor to his throne, Gibbs-White spread a veneer of creativity and unpredictability across United’s work. If the Frenchman continues to develop, he can go a long way towards filling the void Gibbs-White’s exit will leave in Heckingbottom’s preferred set-up. And, having won 53 percent of his matches at the helm after being appointed in November, the former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian chief is unlikely to want to make radical strategic changes over the summer.
But that means another inventive, goalscoring midfielder will have to be sourced. Most probably on loan, given they are pretty thin on the ground in the second tier.
As well as his ability to put the ball in the back of the net, Gibbs-White also registered 10 league assists. Barring an amazing and improbable turn of events, he will be sorely missed.