Sheffield United: The time when The Blades didn't get their man

It was one of the longest running stories of the summer and, unfortunately for Sheffield United, it did not have a happy ending.

Friday, 20th December 2019, 11:47 am
Updated Friday, 20th December 2019, 2:22 pm

Neal Maupay, then of Brentford, was one of Chris Wilder’s leading transfer targets as he prepared his squad for the new Premier League season. But after making discreet enquiries about the centre-forward’s availability - before seeking permission to try and ascertain his thoughts about moving to Bramall Lane - United began to suspect he favoured joining Brighton and Hove Albion. Maupay did, and is expected to spearhead their attack against the visitors from South Yorkshire tomorrow.

Having scored seven goals since completing his transfer to the AMEX Stadium, three of which have come in Albion’s last three outings, the Frenchman represents potentially the biggest threat to United’s hopes of extending a remarkable unbeaten run away from home stretching back to January.

Speaking during Thursday’s pre-match media briefing, Wilder confirmed, as The Star reported at the time, that United had “held discussions” with Maupay and his representatives following their promotion from the Championship. Although he portrayed those talks as being relatively routine - “We were in the same pond as a few other clubs...players make their choices and he chose Brighton” - it is understood Wilder’s interest cooled when he suspected, even though Albion were always regarded as favourites for Maupay’s signature, that United were in danger of being drawn into a bidding war. Not in terms of the 23-year-old’s fee; Brentford had already privately made it clear what price they were prepared to accept. Rather, Wilder and United’s negotiation team felt Maupay’s representatives were, quite legitimately attempting to drive up the salary and other associated benefits their client would receive when he left Griffin Park. There was a point during United’s meetings with the former St Etienne attacker when they felt answers to relatively routine questions were not forthcoming. Those close to the process admitted at the time that it was proving difficult, impossible even, to elicit any sort of firm commitment from those sitting across the table.

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Brighton and Hove Albion's Neal Maupay: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.

By choosing to label Maupay as an “excellent” acquisition for Albion, Wilder was effectively reminding there is no ill-feeling between the pair. United’s Lys Mousset travels to Sussex searching for his sixth goal of the campaign, while Oli McBurnie, who worked under Wilder’s opposite number Graham Potter at Swansea City last term, could partner the former AFC Bournemouth man if United choose to make changes ahead of the busy Christmas period.