Sheffield United's choice of friendly opponents suggests Man City collaboration
But pause for a moment to consider the bigger picture and it suddenly becomes apparent that his team’s forthcoming friendly against Spanish outfit Girona could actually be a part of something very significant.
Certainly, given their links to Manchester City, the announcement that United will face Michel’s squad during their training camp in Portugal suggests the relationship between Bramall Lane and the Etihad Stadium is in particularly rude health. Which, as Heckingbottom attempts to engineer the returns of former loanees Tommy Doyle and James McAtee, bodes well for his chances of re-signing at least one.
Girona, who finished 10th in La Liga last term, are part of the same umbrella organisation which also controls City and holds stakes in 10 other clubs. Indeed, as The Star first revealed towards the end of last term, McAtee was supposed to be going there until United intervened and persuaded both the youngster and his advisors that South Yorkshire was a better place to develop his talent.
Life is full of coincidences. But in football, which is now controlled by governments and multinational corporations, very little happens by chance. So either United simply stumbled across the fact that Girona happened to have a spare date in their diary or someone suggested them as a viable option to fill the vacancy which existed in their own warm-up schedule ahead of the new Premier League campaign.
Beira Mar were initially approached about facing United in Lisbon until, for unknown reasons, that idea appeared to wither on the vine.
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Heckingbottom has discussed Doyle and McAtee with Txiki Begiristain, City’s powerful director of football. Although the Basque is minded to keep the latter for the first half of next term, the fact he even decided to grant United an audience confirms there is still something to discuss.
Doyle is expected to leave after admitting he wants to continue playing regularly after making 29 appearances for United. Given the options at their disposal, that almost certainly won’t happen at City who are minded to sell if the deal is right.
Alternatively, if McAtee stays put, then Doyle could rejoin United on loan. Almost certainly with a view to a permanent transfer.
Heckingbottom and his coaching staff established excellent lines of communication with their counterparts at City following the duo’s move across the Pennines. Members of Pep Guardiola’s backroom staff made a series of regular journeys to United’s training complex, ostensibly to observe how Doyle and McAtee were progressing.
However, given the sheer volume of youngsters on City’s books and the need for them to acquire first team experience, it would have been remiss of City’s associates not to have investigated whether United could also help some of their contemporaries to progress.
Cole Palmer, for example, is about to depart on a temporary basis with Guardiola and Begiristain wanting to place him with a top-flight team.
United’s forthcoming meeting with City’s sister club Girona could have come about by accident. Alternatively, it could be a clue towards some future collaboration; albeit governed by loose and informal terms.