Sheffield United shine a light on their big transfer masterplan by signing Mali youngster

Ismaila Coulibaly, the Mali under-20 midfielder who has joined Sheffield United from Sarpsborg 08, is the latest example of how Bramall Lane’s owners hope to use the network of clubs they have quietly established since taking control to help Chris Wilder’s side stay one step ahead in the transfer market.

Thursday, 10th September 2020, 6:00 am

Coulibaly, aged 19, was immediately loaned to Beerschot VA after completing his move from Norway and is poised to spend the next three seasons in Belgium. HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who took sole charge of United last year following a protracted battle for control with former chairman Kevin McCabe, controls a significant stake in the Jupiler Pro League outfit - where Jan van Winckel, his most trusted footballing advisor, also exerts great influence.

As The Star revealed earlier this year, Prince Abdullah was also the driving force behind the decision to create a new footballing entity - Al-Hilal United (AHU) - in Dubai, where legislation governing the arrival of promising young players is not as strict as in England or Belgium.

Although Coulibaly has headed straight for Beerschot, United could choose to place some of their more inexperienced additions in the Middle East before assessing them ahead of potential moves to first the Olympisch Stadion and then Bramall Lane. More likely, however, will be the sight of AHU recruiting youngsters for themselves before granting Beerschot and United first refusal should they impress.

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With Wilder acknowledging he does not have the funds to compete financially with England’s established Premier League teams, the United manager and his employers have resolved to try and ‘work smarter’ in an effort to remain competitive having finished ninth last term.

Sander Berge became United’s most expensive acquisition ever when he arrived in a £22m deal from Genk eight months ago. But, as Wilder explained following Berge’s arrival, United chose to move during the January window in order to avoid being drawn into an auction for his services this summer. With Napoli also known to be interested, Berge would almost certainly have proven beyond United’s reach had Genk been able to spark a bidding war.

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Ismaila Coulibaly has joined Sheffield United before being loaned to Beerschot
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder with the Premier League club's owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Dubai, where Al Hilal United are based: KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images