Why Sheffield United are in a position to move quickly for Premier League defender if Slavisa Jokanovic approves bid
Sheffield United will be able to move quickly if Slavisa Jokanovic approves a bid for Ben Davies, after it emerged their former manager Chris Wilder had effectively agreed a deal with the centre-half before his move to Anfield.
The detail of the discussions between the pair, which were relayed by a source with knowledge of the proposed deal last night, could explain why Wilder’s relationship with Bramall Lane’s board of directors deteriorated so rapidly after they refused to sanction Davies’ purchase from Preston North End during the January transfer window.
With his successor Jokanovic prepared to adhere to the strategy devised by United’s recruitment department over the past two seasons - albeit subject to a few personal tweaks - Davies has again been linked with a switch to South Yorkshire ahead of the new Championship campaign.
Defence is a priority area for the Serb this summer, with Phil Jagielka departing at the end of his contract and Kean Bryan unlikely to return.
Davies was identified as an ideal replacement for Jack O’Connell, whose injury issues show no signs of abating despite undergoing surgery in September to correct a long-standing knee problem. The return of Rhys Norrington-Davies following a spell on loan with Stoke City has gone some way towards addressing the issues O’Connell’s absence has caused. However, Jokanovic has yet to decide if he will persevere with the three man rearguard favoured by his predecessor or switch to a back four.
Wilder left United less than two months after his swoop for Davies collapsed, paving the way for Jurgen Klopp to capture the 25-year-old instead.
The Star also understands the package North End were prepared to accept from United was worth less than the £1.7m they hoped to receive from Liverpool. With performance related clauses thought to account for more than half of that sum, Klopp’s decision to listen to offers for Davies means it is unclear if they will receive the full amount.
“Ben is a really good player, but he has to get used to all this stuff here,” Klopp said earlier this year, explaining why Davies is still yet to make a competitive appearance since leaving Deepdale. “E still have options and hopefully it stays like that.
“I don’t make judgments like this. I don’t tell Ben he just has to train until May and then we’ll see how it is.”
“It will take as long as it takes,” he continued, attempting to strike a balance between keeping Davies motivated and admitting he was soon likely to become surplus to requirements. “In this position, it is important the guys get used to each other. Ben will play when he plays. That is how it is.”
Although Jokanovic arrived with his own list of targets, the Serb also agreed to follow most aspects of the development plan United had formulated after Wilder led them to promotion in 2019.
Despite finishing ninth during their first season back in the top-flight, Wilder and his staff always accepted that relegation was a real possibility given the gulf in resources between the two divisions.
With his side already fighting for survival before Davies was first approached, the former York City, Fleetwood Town and Tranmere Rovers loanee was viewed by Wilder as exactly the type of player who could help them bounce back at the earliest opportunity should their demotion be confirmed.
Two people with knowledge of the negotiations which took place at the time - North End, having been informed Davies had no intention of agreeing a new deal, signalling they could take place - have claimed both a basic salary and bonus payment scheme were unofficially agreed with both the player and his representatives.
With United inserting relegation clauses into all of the deals recently agreed with existing members of their squad, one of those has stressed Davies is already likely to have negotiated his wage should they find themselves in the second tier.
That could form the basis of United’s talks with Davies if Jokanovic gives them to go ahead to approach Liverpool, where Virgil van Dijk’s return to fitness means Klopp is ready to do business.
“The problem was clear,” said the German, elaborating on why Davies has yet to make his Liverpool debut. “We will not start with two new centre-halves if we don’t have to because of the situation.
“As I said, it is important the guys who play here are used to each other and know what one another are doing. We have fiddled a little bit here and there and tried to make things as consistent as possible.
“But a lot of things can disturb that process. But now it’s okay.”
Celtic were also monitoring Davies before his switch to Merseyside. Like Jokankvic, Ange Postecoglou is also ready to accept the majority of his scouting department’s recommendations having only just been appointed.
The former Scottish Premiership champions are also thought to be considering resurrecting their interest after privately being briefed Davies can leave Liverpool. With United surrendering their PL status in April, Celtic are now likely to pose more of a threat should Jokanovic add Davies’ name to his list of definite targets. Particularly given that, as well as offering the possibility of European football, they will now be able match United’s pay offer.
Postecoglou is also an admirer of George Baldock, although Celtic are unwilling to pay more than £5m for the United wing-back.