Sheffield United transfer target in contract talks as manager admits Premier League interest

Blades transfer target set to become free agent next summer
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Boss Russell Martin admits he is hoping that midfielder Will Smallbone will sign a new contract at Southampton amid tranfer interest from Sheffield United. Smallbone, currently sidelined with ankle injury, is scheduled to become a free agent next summer, with United hoping to exploit his contract status and seal a cut-priced deal.

The 23-year-old is a teammate of United skipper John Egan at Republic of Ireland level, with unconfirmed media reports recently that United lodged a £7m bid which was knocked back before Smallbone’s injury. Initial fears that the ankle issue would keep him out long-term have been played down by Martin, but he missed Saturday’s victory at Southampton.

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The new Saints boss is keen to tie down Smallbone to an extended contract, telling the Daily Echo: “I hope so. Talks have been ongoing. I think Will wanted to come back and see how he fits in and see the new way of working. He feels like he had done enough last season to come back here and stake a claim and be a big player for the club. That is what he wants.

“However, it has to be right for him and there has definitely been interest from other clubs in the Championship and Premier League after how well he had done. The club has been very clear with Will that we want him here; I want him here and Jason [Wilcox, director of football] wants him here.

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“He’s an academy graduate and we have to really buy into those players. We have to be serious about that. Often you’ll hear it and it’s a bit lip service but we really want people who care about the club. Will, for many reasons, ticks a lot of boxes – character, talent, grown up here and cares - and hopefully it’s something we can get sorted very quickly.”

Martin revealed last week that Smallbone’s injury “is not going to be really long-term”, with the Saints taking “each day as it comes” in terms of his recovery. “It’s the oldest cliché in the book but it’s really true,” added Martin, who has already lost midfielders James Ward-Prowse, Ibrahima Diallo and Romeo Lavia this summer. “Especially about an injury. He’s recovering really quickly, healing really well. The quicker we can get him back in the better because he gives us flexibility and understanding.”

The Saints signed West Ham midfielder Flynn Downes on loan earlier today.