Sheffield United have not-so-secret weapon to land prize catch from shallowest of pools

Sheffield United’s area of need in the transfer market this summer is easy to pinpoint.
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You’d imagine the right players are easy to identify as well. All recruitment chiefs know who the best ones are for any position.

But when your main targets are game-changers in the attacking third, you’re fishing in the shallowest pool. And with the most competition; making it also the most expensive.

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Throw in the fact that the Blades have, at best, a rock bottom Premier League budget and there has to be a genius-like quality to their work.

Tommy Doyle and James McAtee (right) excelled after joining Sheffield United on loan: Simon Bellis / SportimageTommy Doyle and James McAtee (right) excelled after joining Sheffield United on loan: Simon Bellis / Sportimage
Tommy Doyle and James McAtee (right) excelled after joining Sheffield United on loan: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Because, when you analyse last season’s promotion, what made the key difference in many a tight game were special moments from special players.

Two of those remain, two have left (for now at least). Retaining Iliman Ndiaye and Sander Berge for the greater challenge of next season is a start.

Regaining either of the Manchester City loanees, Tommy Doyle and James McAtee, would go some way to resolving the problem.

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But the uncertainty on that score is so high that United have to be looking to replicate something similar from elsewhere.

Bear in mind, too, that they had to bring both those young players up to scratch for competitive football before they could fully harness their talents.

It’s going to be super tough. Which is why, with another front-line striker also ideally needed, manager Paul Heckingbottom has to be looking to Daniel Jebbison and Will Osula to make the step up.

Indeed, for United’s esteemed academy to keep doing what it does.

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Crucially, though, when it comes to senior recruitment United have one of the best in the business in Paul Mitchell.

And together they’ve shown what’s possible in the last couple of years. The Morgan Gibbs-White loaning from Wolves, for instance. The absolute steal of Anel Ahmedhodzic. The double deal with City.

So it is just about possible to make a little go a long way. Especially if you are trusted in the game to polish diamonds in the rough.

Heckingbottom and his staff have earned that trust. Indeed, they have just handed back to the English double-winners two players who are worth far more than they were a year ago.

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Whether they are now in a realistic position to challenge at City remains of some doubt and it may be Pep Guardiola wants to broaden their education elsewhere.

What’s more important is that United - and here another nod to Hecky’s wish to retain such a strongly bonded core group - have shown they can provide exactly the right environment for would-be stars.

And in terms of character building, next season promises to offer even more.