Sheffield United face nervous contract talks wait as Premier League squad plans take shape

Blades in contract talks with trio
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Sheffield United are facing a nervous wait over negotiations with three of their out-of-contract players, ahead of their return to the Premier League next season.

United, who paid emotional tributes to Billy Sharp, Jack O’Connell and Enda Stevens after yesterday confirming that they will be released this summer after the expiry of their contracts, also confirmed that Wes Foderingham, Oli McBurnie, Ollie Norwood and Ismaila Coulibaly will remain at Bramall Lane next season.

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Paul Heckingbottom, following conversations with the Blades board over his plans for the new season, hopes that John Fleck, Ben Osborn and Jack Robinson will also remain in South Yorkshire for the new campaign in the top flight. Heckingbottom had previously expressed his desire for all United’s out-of-contract players to remain at Bramall Lane, with Kyron Gordon also looking for a new club this summer after being released by his boyhood club.

However, all three players and their representatives are also free to discuss potential moves elsewhere with rival clubs, leading to the possibility that at least one may be plying their trade elsewhere next season. All three have suitors elsewhere at Championship level while Fleck also has admirers north of the border in his native Scotland, who are keeping tabs on his situation at United.

With Heckingbottom currently working to a budget of £20m for the five new players he hopes to bring in this summer, he faces an anxious wait for decisions from the trio as he looks to avoid a worst-case scenario of as many as eight new faces being needed with funds in short supply.

The Star understands United had the option to trigger an automatic extension to Fleck’s contract, but opted to enter negotiations with the Scottish international instead - suggesting that they are hoping to change the Scottish international’s current terms and conditions, rather than simply continue them for another season.

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Osborn and Robinson saw their one-year extensions activated last summer and so were required to negotiate fresh deals if they were to remain at Bramall Lane. While Robinson impressed on the left of United’s back three as Heckingbottom’s men secured automatic promotion behind winners Burnley, Fleck and Osborn suffered injury-disrupted campaigns in midfield.

The departure of Stevens confirms the targeting of the left wing-back area as a priority position for Heckingbottom this summer, with Rhys Norrington-Davies returning from a serious hamstring injury. The Welsh international could also be viewed as an option for the left centre-half position, having picked the brains of O’Connell about how to best play it during the defender’s long spell on the sidelines.