Signed from Sarpsborg, Coulibaly has spent the past two seasons on loan with Beerschot; the Belgian arm of United owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s global footballing network.
But following a calamitous season at the Olympisch Stadion, which culminated in Greg Vanderidt’s side being relegated from the Jupiler Pro League, United must now decide whether to recall the youngster, place him elsewhere or allow him to remain in Antwerp and risk falling foul of post-Brexit employment legislation.
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“If he is in Belgium’s second division next year, he won’t qualify for us if we want him,” United manager Paul Heckingbottom explained. “If we want him, we’ll have to do it pretty quick.
“There’s lots of options. He could come back here or go somewhere else. He could stay where he is but if he does, there could be work permit difficulties.”
Aged 21, Coulibaly has yet to make a first team appearance for United after being placed with Beerschot immediately after his arrival in England. Aware of the need for him to build some sort of rapport with his parent club, Heckingbottom invited to train with United’s first team squad during the international break.
“It was as much for Ismaila as it was for us,” continued Heckingbottom, who confessed to be undecided about where Coulibaly’s immediate future lies. “He has been there for such a long time. I wanted him to experience us and we have to know what decisions to make regarding him. I’ve not made that decision yet.”
“He’s a good lad and he was really keen to be here,” Heckingbottom added. “Their season is nearly over and so there might be an opportunity to bring him over here again. It was a three year loan with Beerschot but we need to decide what to do now.”
As The Star revealed earlier this week, United could also be handed the opportunity to acquire Coulibaly’s colleague Stipe Radic with the Croatian unlikely to view a spell in the 1B Pro League as beneficial for his development. Lawrence Shankland, the Scotland centre-forward, also faces an uncertain future at Beerschot after joining them from Dundee United last summer.
“At the start of the season, Ismaila played with a stress fracture and in the end he couldn’t do it and his form suffered,” Heckingbottom said, ahead of today’s game against Stoke City. “I’ve seen a few of his games over there and he looks a lot more mobile now than he did at the beginning (of the campaign). So that’s good.
“Now, with coming here, he knows how hard we work and how hard he’s got to keep working if he wants to get into our team.
“We’ll see what happens, we’ll decide what’s best to do. Not only for us but also for Ismaila himself, because he seems a really good lad. We’ll have a think about what that is.”