Chris Wilder has described the news that three of his most influential players are poised to sign new contracts at Bramall Lane as Sheffield United’s most important piece of business since gaining promotion back to the Championship.
Wilder confirmed Chris Basham, Paul Coutts and captain Billy Sharp have “verbally agreed” deals until 2019 after unveiling Richard Stearman as his fifth close season signing yesterday.
A fourth member of United’s League One title-winning squad, wing-back Kieron Freeman, is expected to follow suit shortly.
The contracts have been verbally agreed,” Wilder said. “Everybody gets a little bit impatient and wants to hear about new signings every week. But these are just as big as anything else we’ve done in the weeks that have passed.”
“To get the skipper to re-sign, Couttsy and Basham, they are big players,” Wilder added. “It sends the message out that they are happy here and want to kick on. There’s still a bit of negotiation to do and I understand that. It’s their careers and we have a certain pot. But they want to kick on with this group. We know they can take the step up and lead us from the front.”
Sharp, Coutts and Basham made a combined total of 133 appearances as United finished on 100 points, 14 clear of their nearest rivals, last term. Wilder, who has inserted a clause which could tie them to the club for a further 12 months into their contract proposals, will now focus on reaching agreement with Freeman.
“I’ve spoken to Kez,” the 49-year-old, speaking during a training session at GB Boxing’s EIS base, said. “I’ll get him in the ring and beat him up if he doesn’t sign. Joking aside, he wants to stop. And why shouldn’t he? He was outstanding last year.
“We don’t want to drag these things on. I don’t want them to go because, if I did, I wouldn’t have offered these deals. I fully expect to come to an agreement with Kieron.”
Stearman’s arrival is designed to bolster United’s options at centre-half. Aged 29, he started his career with Leicester City before joining Fulham from Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“Richard brings experience,” Wilder said. “Every manager I’ve spoken to, they say Richard is a great character, a great leader and a great defender. It won’t be as straight-forward next year as it was last and we all know that, at some stages of the season, we are going to need all those qualities.”
With Swindon Town expected to complete the loan signing of Chris Hussey shortly and James Wilson also set to depart on a temporary deal, Wilder indicated Ethan Ebanks-Landell, Stearman’s former team mate at Molineux, remains a target.
“It was important we nailed it down in terms of experience,” Wilder continued. “I still think we are one light - James will most probably go out on Monday - whether we play a two or a three.
“We’ve not quite got as many centre-halves as Wolves have got but I’d like to try and get another one in.”