Sheffield United's "aggressive" transfer moves reported as promotion averts extended ban
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Paul Heckingbottom was banned from signing players in January, when the English Football League decided to act after learning his employers had fallen behind on their payments relating to previous purchases. Although this punishment was eventually lifted in April, using money generated by United’s march into the semi-finals of the FA Cup, the EFL’s regulations state that members which fail to settle debts owed to rival clubs both at home and abroad within a 30 day period will face an even more stringent punishment.
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However, after finishing second in the table and 11 points clear of eventual play-off winners Luton Town, Heckingbottom’s squad are now preparing to come under the Premier League’s jurisdiction. That means the threat of being prohibited from drafting-in any reinforcements for another 12 months has been averted, with officials at the top-flight’s London headquarters having drafted their own rule book pertaining to such matters. Crucially, United’s coaching staff have been informed that the EFL will not trigger an extended ban if they are relegated - meaning they have effectively been handed a clean slate moving forward.
The Star understands that Heckingbottom has already begun the process of trying to secure some of the names he handed to United owner Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and members of United World’s hierarchy - the organisation the Saudi Arabian uses to oversee his portfolio of sporting interests - at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, last month. Sources within the game, including a number of agents with clients who fit the 45-year-old’s profile, have reported that representatives acting on his behalf are conducting exploratory talks with several potential targets. One last night described those moves as “aggressive”, which suggests that Prince Abdullah either has - or is confident of - securing outside investment to boost a recruitment budget which is believed to currently stand at around £20m. If so, then United’s board owes Heckingbottom and his players a huge debt of gratitude with their return to the highest level of the English game making the team a much more attractive proposition for would-be backers.
Speaking during an interview with United’s in-house media channel last month, Prince Abdullah admitted he came close to selling his holding as financial problems mounted behind the scenes. Despite these, after successfully petitioning for star names such as Iliman Ndiaye and Sander Berge not to be sold in order to ease them, Heckingbottom’s squad were able to maintain their performance levels on the pitch - securing the runners-up berth behind champions Burnley with three games to spare.
After agreeing a sale price for United with Dozy Mmobuosi - the Nigerian entrepreneur later revealed he had paid nearly £9m into an account controlled by UW - Prince Abdullah suggested during his end-of-season debrief, which was published on social media, that those discussions have now stalled.
That comment came after Mmobuosi told a West African news channel that he remained committed to trying to acquire control of United, amid increasing interest from members of the US business community.
Reaching the PL is worth at least £170m to United over the course of the next three campaigns.