Southampton’s Man City deal offers Sheffield United clues over Tommy Doyle transfer

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Sheffield United may soon receive an indication of the ballpark Manchester City value midfielder Tommy Doyle in, as the Premier League champions prepare to sanction a deal for one of his young teammates to the Championship.

City are thought to have agreed a deal worth as much as £15m, including add-ons, with recently-relegated Southampton for midfielder Shea Charles. Charles, 19, has made one substitute appearance for City, on the last day of last season against Brentford, but is an eight-cap senior international with Northern Ireland after qualifying through his mother.

The Saints are thought to have agreed an initial fee of £10.5m for Charles, potentially rising to £15m with add-ons, with City retaining sell-on and buy-back clauses as part of the deal. The fee, and both players’ stages of their relative careers, will inevitably prompt comparisons, with Blades fans desperate to see Doyle return to Bramall Lane and play in the Premier League next season.

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Boss Paul Heckingbottom and his coaching staff are also keen to work again with James McAtee, but cannot loan both players again under Premier League rules. That prompted the idea of exploring a permanent deal for Doyle but boss Heckingbottom is working with a limited £20m budget for permanent signings this summer and using Charles’ fee as a benchmark, the money required to do a deal would represent a significant portion of the funds at Heckingbottom’s disposal.

Doyle would have also comfortably been United’s highest earner last season if they were to pay his full salary at City, with question marks over how willing he would be to readily agree to the usual relegation release clauses inserted into the contracts of most Bramall Lane signings. Doyle has made no secret of his desire to play for the Blades again, with more discussions about his future expected after the conclusion of England’s U21 Euro campaign. The final, which sees Doyle and Co. take on Spain, is played tomorrow evening.

With James Trafford, the City goalkeeper, also nearing the exit door in a £15m plus add-ons deal with Burnley this summer, it is clear that City are not doing rival teams any favours in terms of undervaluing their young stars. Trafford, Doyle’s teammate with former Blades assistant Lee Carsley’s talented crop of U21s, has played two seasons of club football in League One while eight of Charles’ nine senior appearances have come at international level.

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Doyle, in contrast, has over 75 professional games under his belt and experience with two Championship clubs - helping one of them, United, to automatic promotion - and a spell in Germany with Hamburg. Common sense would dictate that his value is at least similar, if not higher, to that of Trafford and Charles. But this, after all, is football, and common sense does not always apply.

For City, the attractions of such deals are obvious providing they protect their own interests with the sell-on and, crucially, buy-back clauses. Treated as an extended loan period, City can allow Trafford, Charles - and, United still hope, Doyle - to progress their careers elsewhere at good clubs, safe in the knowledge that they can simply bring them back at some point in the future if they progress as expected. Selling academy products also means that the transfer fees become ‘pure profit’ and have benefits in terms of Financial Fair Play rules.

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