Sheffield United transfers: Where Blades need to be active in the market - once a new manager is in place
First things first, Sheffield United need a manager.
Before anything can be actioned, well anything of any importance regarding footballing affairs, Chris Wilder’s replacement needs to be in the building and given time to settle in behind their new desk.
But those members of staff not on the selection panel tasked with identifying and then hiring the best person for the job are still beavering away, ensuring everything is in place for him - and with no women on the shortlist, it will be a him - to hit the ground running. After all, with the transfer window set to swing open and a promotion to be won, United can’t afford to waste time licking their wounds following last season’s relegation.
Placed in caretaker charge when Wilder parted company with the club he twice led to promotion two months ago, Paul Heckingbottom has been taking care of the first team’s day to day business at Bramall Lane.
Handed the responsibility of organising an orderly exit from the Premier League - United already had one foot and four toes in the Championship when he first took charge - the former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian chief’s attention has switched to arranging this summer’s training schedules, warm-up games and devising a strategy to ensure the exciting crop of youngsters which has recently emerged continues to develop since achieving his first objective.
Although United finished bottom of the table, three wins from their final six outings restored some self-belief and pride.
However the second most important item on United’s to-do list - identifying targets and then actioning them - will be impossible to even start until Wilder’s successor is appointed. And changes will need to be made, despite Heckingbottom’s insistence that the group which beat Burnley on Sunday is strong enough to challenge for an immediate top-flight return.
James Shield, The Star’s United writer, highlights the areas where United are likely to do business before the start of the 2021/22 campaign and why.
With Aaron Ramsdale proving why Wilder committed the best part of £20m bringing him back to South Yorkshire following a spell with AFC Bournemouth and Wes Foderingham a more than capable deputy, United appear well-stocked with quality goalkeepers. Simon Moore, a member of the side which lifted the League One title in 2017, is expected to leave after falling down the pecking order. Hopefully he does, because Moore deserves to get his career back on track.
There is also a decision to be made about Michael Verrips’ future as well, after the Dutchman complained about his lack of opportunities before being dispatched to FC Emmen on loan in February. If he also follows Moore through the exit door, United have enough talent in their academy to cover the third choice position.
Ramsdale’s form in recent months is likely to see him attract attention from elsewhere. But he has no interest in leaving and, if United are serious about growing as a club, even ridiculous offers should be rebuffed.
The time it is taking Jack O’Connell to recover from knee surgery is, whichever way you look at it, concerning. Having undergone a procedure to cure a long-standing complaint in September, the defender, whose qualities are vital to the way United prefer to play, has still yet to appear in a matchday squad. Jack Robinson, now over his own fitness issues, suggested he is now getting to grips with the role by impressing during the final three games of the season.
Rhys Norington-Davies’ return, following loan spells with Luton Town and Stoke City, means United do not need to sign a replacement for O’Connell should he remain unavailable during pre-season. Unless the youngster is injured on duty with Wales at this summer’s European Championships of course.
It would be a surprise if John Egan and George Baldock are not the subject of hostile bids from rival clubs, particularly as both could operate comfortably in a flat back four. With Phil Jagielka approaching his 39th birthday and Kean Bryan’s future also in doubt, United would benefit from acquiring another ‘traditional’ centre-half capable of anchoring their three.
Sander Berge is unlikely to be seen in a United jersey again, with representatives acting on the club’s behalf trying to ensure the Norway international commands a fee of around £35m when he moves on.
If they stay, John Fleck and Oliver Norwood have already proven themselves to be effective Championship performers but, with John Lundstram also set to leave, United will need to recruit an attacking midfielder capable of scoring goals - something neither Fleck nor Norwood, for all their other qualities, provide enough of. Someone with a physical presence would be preferable.
It will be interesting to discover if Luke Freeman, who spent last term on loan at Nottingham Forest, will be given an opportunity to show he can fill the vacancy for someone capable of producing ‘something out of nothing’ which has remained unfilled since Mark Duffy’s departure. A lack of genuine width in this area has also been a handicap in the past, particularly when injuries have forced to stick round pegs in square holes rather than simply change shape.
This is the one area of the pitch where, even if they do bring in some new blood to freshen things up a little, United need to trim their numbers. Billy Sharp isn’t getting any younger, but still remains the best finisher at the club. Daniel Jebbison and Antwoine Hackford are exciting prospects but still must be nurtured.
Lys Mousset could be sold but, even if he is, seven strikers is far too many. It unnecessarily complicates selections and is a barrier to those attempting to build proper partnerships. Yes, Hackford could be loaned out. However, United should look to create room on their budget by moving some of their attackers on.