Chris Wilder has insisted it is vital Sheffield United keep hold of their best players this summer if they want to mount another play-off challenge.
Seven members of Bramall Lane’s first team squad were last night told they can find new clubs as coaching staff clear the decks ahead of the transfer window, which opens shortly.
Although his most influential performers are all tied to long-term contracts, Wilder claimed the enforced departure of any big names would threaten to undo the progress United have made since his appointment two years ago.
“Myself and the football club need to keep hold of out better players just to compete,” Wilder said.
“Because, without a shadow of a doubt, it’s going to be an even tougher division next year.”
“I think we can get even better, definitely,” the United manager added.
“George Baldock has just had his first proper season in the Championship.
“The same goes for the likes of Enda Stevens, Jack O’Connell, Ryan Leonard and John Lundstram too.
“We’ve got Lee Evans, who like Enda is an international footballer, Leon (Clarke) and Billy (Sharp) scoring and Mark Duffy has been outstanding.”
United finished 10th last season, six points behind the Championship play-off positions, after winning the League One title during Wilder’s first 12 months in charge.
But they retained a mathematical chance of securing a top six berth until the penultimate match of the campaign following victories over the likes of Middlesbrough, Derby County and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Although Wilder could be tempted to trade if the right opportunities present themselves, he would prefer to strengthen the options at his disposal rather than perform another major overhaul.
David Brooks is being monitored by a number of top flight clubs but Wilder has denied claims the youngster, who recently recovered from glandular fever, inserted a buy-out clause into the deal he signed after being called-up by Wales.
Despite expressing concerns United’s on-going ownership issue could affect his work, yesterday’s publication of a retained and released list reveals Wilder is drafting plans for next term.
Clayton Donaldson and Chris Hussey are both set to depart while players including George Long and Louis Reed have been declared surplus to requirements.
Another, Samir Carruthers, is expected to emerge as a target for Oxford United where Karl Robinson is now manager. Robinson, who worked with Carruthers at MK Dons, expressed an interest in the midfielder during his spell in charge of Charlton Athletic.