Sheffield United set for Luke Freeman decision as Paul Heckingbottom admits new faces will be arriving at Bramall Lane

Paul Heckingbottom says he is expecting Luke Freeman to return to Sheffield United over the coming days, despite admitting he is unaware if Nottingham Forest will exercise their right to sign the midfielder on a permanent basis following his loan spell at the City Ground.

Friday, 7th May 2021, 6:00 am

After moving to the Midlands on loan last summer, Freeman has confirmed his season is now over because of a knee injury.

Forest inserted a clause entitling them to purchase the 29-year-old this summer into the deal which saw him leave Bramall Lane.

Suggesting there has so far been little communication between the two clubs about Freeman’s future, Heckingbottom, United’s interim manager, said: “I don’t know if anything is happening with Luke.

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BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: Luke Freeman of Nottingham Forest during the Sky Bet Championship match between Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forest at Ewood Park on October 17, 2020 in Blackburn, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

“I’m not too sure, admittedly, about what the dates are and if they (Forest) have to decide by a certain time but that’s often the case.

“So although I’m not too sure what’s going on there, I will say we are expecting him back here.”

Freeman, signed by Queens Park Rangers following United’s promotion from the Championship in 2019, struggled for game time as Chris Wilder’s side went on to finish ninth in the table and was eventually allowed to leave on a temporary basis.

Fitness issues have plagued his spell with Chris Hughton’s side but, providing those are addressed, there is a school of thought that United would be wise to retain his services after being relegated back to the Championship ahead of tomorrow’s game against Crystal Palace.

Sheffield United's Interim manager Paul Heckingbottom reacts during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Sheffield United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on May 2, 2021. (Photo by Justin Setterfield / POOL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo by JUSTIN SETTERFIELD/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

“Luke isn’t back with us yet,” Heckingbottom continued. “We’ve got lots of players, especially younger ones, out on loan whose seasons are also coming to an end. That’s something we need to look at. We need to look at it for them and for us, so they are in the best place and be best prepared for the start of next season.

“That is their priority right now, because they aren’t available to us. And our priority is making sure they are next placed to do well when we report back towards the end of June.”

Having been without a permanent manager since Wilder’s departure in April, United will shortly decide if Heckingbottom is to be handed the role of leading them back to the top-flight or whether they should make an external appointment.

Acknowledging time is of the essence in order to plan an effective recruitment drive, Heckingbottom said: “I think there will be a tweak, rather than anything huge in terms of turnover.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 25: Luke Freeman of Sheffield United battles for possession with James Brown of Millwall during the FA Cup Fourth Round match between Millwall FC and Sheffield United at The Den on January 25, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

“If you had an open budget, you’d be going out and looking at bringing in whoever you want and however many you want. We don’t have one of those, and so I think we’ll be looking at single figures and making the most out of this group - bringing back what made it successful before.

“They might not have always had the best individual players on the pitch butk, I tell you hat, they were always the best team on the pitch. And they enjoyed being that.”

“There will be fresh faces, there naturally always is,” he added. “Then they have to be ones who can come straight into your eleven, because otherwise all you are doing is reshaping the squad.”