What Sheffield United boss said about chances of signing free agents after Jack O’Connell decision made

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When Sheffield United submitted their official squad list to the EFL earlier this year, one key name was again conspicuous by its absence.

Jack O’Connell, who recently passed an unhappy milestone of two years since his last appearance in a Blades shirt, is still continuing his battle for fitness after two knee operations but isn’t yet available to train with his United teammates, leading to the decision to omit him from the official squad list.

United submitted 24 senior players to the EFL, leaving the possibility of a free agent signing ahead of the January transfer window – a prospect which seemed more appealing amid United’s ongoing injury defensive crisis, which recently claimed Rhys Norrington-Davies as its latest victim.

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But although boss Paul Heckingbottom confirmed he and his staff “looked”, he added: “Loads of players don't qualify, but loads do - and then where would they be at [in terms of fitness] when they come in?

“The other thing is the cost. We don’t want to be wasting time and energy looking at something that then we get a no for, because we can't afford. The time and energy from me and everyone else is better spent on the boys here.”

Free agents can sign for clubs outside the normal transfer windows, but are rarely fit enough to make it a worthwhile prospect. United had a look at Andre Wisdom last year in training but decided against doing a deal when it became apparent the former Liverpool man would take too long to get up to speed.

Paul Heckingbottom, the manager of Sheffield United: Darren Staples / SportimagePaul Heckingbottom, the manager of Sheffield United: Darren Staples / Sportimage
Paul Heckingbottom, the manager of Sheffield United: Darren Staples / Sportimage

United currently have no fit, senior and recognised left wing-backs, with Norrington-Davies joining Enda Stevens and Max Lowe in the treatment room. Centre-half Ciaran Clark, on loan from Newcastle, is also injured, but Jack Robinson has returned to fitness after a knee issue. Robinson has been on the bench of late but is yet to make his first appearance since a training ground collision with Sander Berge, who is also out.

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“We'd have loved Jack to be in [the squad],” Heckingbottom added. “But he's not fit and available to train so it gives us that leeway [in the free agent market], of course. But we don't have to take it.”

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