Confirming the midfielder’s presence at the Randox Health Academy, where United are now preparing for the new Championship season, Heckingbottom told The Star that none of his former colleagues at the Olympisch Stadion are also being considered for moves to South Yorkshire.
The Belgians, who Coilibaly joined immediately after arriving in England 21 months ago, are part of the network established by HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to oversee his portfolio of sporting interests. Entitled United World, the project also includes teams in France, India, Dubai and of course United.
“There’s no one else thinking about crossing clubs, but Coulibaly is back in with us,” said Heckingbottom, appearing to distance himself from claims that Beerschot’s Stipe Radic and Ilias Sebaoui could also be offered to United. “In order for him to qualify with his work permit, we needed to pull him back over here this year.”
Coulibaly, aged 21, enjoyed a brief spell training with United towards the end of last term. Having spent so long on the continent, Heckingbottom insisted it was vital the youngster was made to “feel a part” of United rather than an outsider. With that in mind, coaching staff are set to fully involve Coulibaly in their programme of summer friendlies which begins with a game against Casa Pia in Lisbon next month. The Portuguese were recently promoted to the Primeira Liga.
“He (Coulibaly) found it tough in terms of the physicality,” Heckingbottom acknowledged, reflecting upon his recent stint at the Randox Health Academy. “He’ll find pre-season tough but we want him to experience it and get the full benefit. He is our player after all.
“To begin with, when he went over there, he was creating a lot of interest but then got an injury that hadn’t been flagged up. That set him back a bit.
“We’re looking forward to getting him in and, if everything goes according to plan, then he’ll be in the friendlies. The only way we will get him anywhere near our team is if he is good enough, and he’ll show that by playing.”
Heckingbottom’s words suggest he believes Coulibaly still has plenty to prove before being considered for regular first team action at United. Once his latest assessment period is completed, a decision will be made on whether or not to retain his services next term or place him with another English Football League side.
Previously of Sarpsborg, Coulibaly has yet to make his debut for United. But he scored five times in 32 outings for Beerschot, who have just been relegated from their country’s top-flight competition.
“Ismaila loved coming here and meeting everybody,” Heckingbottom said. “I think that was really important for him and he’s not experienced that before. You could see it gave him a real boost, especially after a couple of injury issues.”