Although their decision to award Billy Sharp a 12 month contract extension is the most visible of these, a delegation thought to be connected to the Saudi Arabian Football Federation recently visited United at the behest of owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and members of his board.
The fact finding mission, The Star understands, was designed to assess the effectiveness of an academy system which has produced numerous senior international footballers since its launch.
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England’s Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker, former Republic of Ireland midfielder Stephen Quinn and goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, who could become Gareth Southgate’s number one at this summer’s World Cup finals in Qatar, feature among its highest profile alumni. Wales’ Rhys Norrington-Davies, Will Osula and Daniel Jebbison, who are currently members of Paul Heckingbottom’s first team squad, have also graduated from its development programme over the past season or so.
Despite taking place away from the public eye, representatives of the SAFF are believed to have observed the work of United coaches including Derek Geary and Michael Collins before assessing their findings.
The two men, installed as part of the revamp which followed former under-23 chief Paul Heckingbottom’s appointment as manager five months ago, are hugely respected by the 44-year-old and his assistants Stuart McCall and Jack Lester. The latter, now United’s head of player development, previously served as academy manager before helping to select Geary for the role.
Aidy Bothroyd, who oversaw England’s under-21 side before leaving the Young Lions, has also been handed a consultancy position at Shirecliffe.
After taking up their option on Sharp - it remains unclear if they simply triggered a clause contained within his previous agreement or negotiated fresh terms - United must now turn their attention towards securing Chris Basham’s future. The centre-half admitted ahead of Saturday’s win over Cardiff City, which left Heckingbottom’s side sixth in the Championship table with two matches remaining, that his agent is still waiting to receive a final proposal from United following several rounds of talks.
United contest the first of those fixtures at Queens Park Rangers on Friday night.