Sheffield United warned about the danger of ignoring promotion lessons as Premier League awaits
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United contest their final match of the Championship season at Birmingham City today, knowing they are already assured of a place in the Premier League after guaranteeing themselves second place with three games to spare.
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That should have provided Heckingbottom with a head start in his battle to ensure his squad is equipped for the rigours of top-flight football. But after being forced to contend with a series of off-the-pitch issues this term, including delays to essential work at the club’s training complex and a three month long transfer embargo, owner Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s attempts to sell his shareholding mean he has yet to receive permission to begin reshaping its staff.
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The situation is in stark contrast to the one which confronted Heckingbottom 12 months ago when, despite acknowledging his recruitment budget would be trimmed following United’s defeat in the play-off final, he had a clear understanding of how to proceed.
“We did really well last summer,” he told The Star. “We did a lot of things early and we had real clarity about what we had to spend and the position where we needed to do some work.”
With 11 permanent members of their squad approaching the end of their contracts - something else which has privately been a source of frustration for Heckingbottom in recent weeks - and three others set to depart at the end of their loans, what was already guaranteed to be a busy close season will now be positively hectic. Two of those acquired on temporary deals, Manchester City duo James McAtee and Tommy Doyle, feature on Heckingbottom’s list of wants. But it remains unclear if he will be granted the funding to sign one permanently, which would be Doyle, to comply with PL rules.
“I’m done with celebrating now,” Heckingbottom added. “I’ll have a holiday with the family but I;ve got work to do. I think the wife is used to me taking the phone away now. I want to get it done.”