JACK O’CONNELL’S possible departure to the Premier League and Brighton and Hove Albion will come as a huge blow to Sheffield United. Or will it?
An improved offer has been rejected, believed to have been some way short of the £8million that was reportedly on the table. Brinksmanship is at play but the odds are in favour that if Albion move closer to the mark, O'Connell will be heading south.
No Blades fan would want to see him leave. In the current situation it is encouraging that United are standing firm instead of quickly accepting the money as has happened all too often in the past. It demonstrates a change of direction for the good.
But if the player wants to move and more cash on the table makes it inevitable, O'Connell's departure offers benefits. It could provide more room for manoeuvre in a juggling act to bring at least one marquee striker to the Lane before the window for permanent signings closes on August 9.
Blades boss Chris Wilder made it clear earlier this summer that he wanted to add a goalkeeper, a defender, a midfielder and two strikers of quality to his squad. He thought he had resolved the defensive issue with the club record £4million signing of centre-half John Egan from Brentford and keeper Dean Henderson’s loan from Manchester United.
Ben Woodburn’s arrival from Liverpool on a 12-month loan is effectively a replacement for David Brooks who was sold to Bournemouth for an initial £12m in June. Up front, triallist David McGoldrick, at 30 and out of contract after leaving Ipswich, has earned a 12-month stay.
Added revenue still presents its own problems. The loss of O’Connell would mean United’s search for a quality defender is back on the agenda. In midfield, Wilder, while having replaced Brooks, at least temporarily, is still a player short from his initial starting point at the end of last season.
Meanwhile up front, McGoldrick may well prove to be an unexpected find but in terms of the quality Wilder has been talking about in that department he falls short of what was originally envisaged.
With the summer window for permanent signings due to close on August 9, it leaves the Blades boss with plenty of work to do between now and then.
The sale of O’Connell, added to the cash received for Brooks would increase transfer income up to a possible £20m. Only £4m has been spent so far. Assuming Wilder has access, he would be in a better position to improve United at the top end of the pitch, strengthen midfield and bring in a replacement for O’Connell, possibly from a top flight club in the loan market.
Whatever way you look at it, however, if O’Connell goes, the Bramall Lane cult figure leaves big boots to fill. Wilder revealed earlier this week that the club had already turned down a £5.5million bid for the defender. Albion manager Chris Hughton has had O’Connell on his short-list for some time.
The man with the magic hat, who signed from Brentford for the ubiquitous undisclosed fee believed to be about £200,000, makes no secret of how much he loves being at United. After a career of loan moves he finally put down footballing roots in Sheffield. His home is in Liverpool and his partner, former England women’s international Alex Greenwood, has signed for Manchester United after being released by Liverpool.
But it is inconceivable to think the 24-year-old player who penned a new four-and-a-half-year contract only last November, will turn down the opportunity to play at the highest level. Or that United will reject an improved £8m offer from the Amex.
Just two short of 100 appearances in his two seasons at the Lane, in terms of impact he would be arguably a greater loss than Brooks at Brighton’s south coast rivals Bournemouth. The length of contract offered after having originally arrived from Brentford in 2016 tells you all you need to know how much the defender is valued by Wilder.
“Jack hasn't just impressed me, he has impressed everybody at the club with his performances and he is a very important player for us who has done fantastically well,” said the Blades boss at the time.
“He came from Brentford's reserves and was terrific last season. He's adapted to the step up to the Championship and has been outstanding for this term.”
There is no doubt United have got the best out of O’Connell. Sometimes, however, handled correctly a loss can herald a gain. If that is to be Big Jack’s legacy it could work for player and club.