UPDATE: August 8.
- Blades boss Chris Wilder has refuted national newspaper reports claiming Brighton have lodged an £8million bid for Jack O'Connell
- Ipswich striker Martyn Waghorn, a Blades target before being priced out of the market, has joined Derby County for an undisclosed fee.
JACK O’CONNELL may have played his last match in a Blades shirt at Bramall Lane if claims in the national newspapers are accurate.
Brighton, who kick-off their Premier League campaign at Watford on Saturday, are said to have improved their offer for a third time in an effort to secure Sheffield United’s coveted 24-year-old defender.
Having started the bidding at £5.5million, then increased it to £6m, Seagulls boss Chris Hughton is apparently undeterred. £8m is now said to be on the table. A figure that will test United’s resolve after manager Chris Wilder said publicly last week that the player was not for sale.
O’Connell made his 99th appearance in United’s 2-1 defeat at home to Swansea, a disappointing opening to the Championship season.
Earlier in the week Wilder told Sky Sports News: "We've had bids from Brighton but he is not for sale. They keep calling but I've spoken to Chris Hughton, who is a fantastic guy. In football circles there is nobody better than him, experienced and down to earth.
“But we've said to Chris that Jack is not for sale. He has recently signed a four-year contract. I've spoken to Jack and he will be in our team on Saturday.”
O’Connell may not have arrived on the south coast in time for the Pride weekend festival but being “in our team for Saturday” is not quite the same as being in the team full stop.
The player who signed from Brentford in the summer of 2016 for a undisclosed fee believed to be around £200,000, has been absolutely key in Wilder’s two-year transformation of the Blades from League One also-rans to credible Championship contenders. He quickly established himself as a favourite and remains so at the Lane.
O’Connell penned a new, improved four-and-a-half-year contract last November, just 18 months after initially signing a three-year deal. A recognition of just how highly he is regarded and also a move to maximise profit from expected predators should the need arise. As was the case with David Brooks, sold to Bournemouth for £12million plus add-ons.
Now such a moment appears to have arrived for Liverpool-born O'Connell. He is happy at the Lane which is also a good fit for his life away from football. Partner and former England women’s international Alex Grenwood has just signed for Manchester United after being released by Liverpool.
Approaching the best years of his career, however, a move to the Premier League for a talented and ambitious player, albeit at the furthest end of the country, is almost certainly too good to turn down. A factor that will feed into United’s decision to accept or reject the offer.
Wilder has already added 21-year-old Manchester City graduate Kean Bryan to bolster United’s defensive strength alongside record £4m-plus addition John Egan from Brentford. Millwall’s Jake Cooper, a 23-year-old 6ft 4ins left-footed defender, is reported to be on Wilder’s short-list should O’Connell head south. Cooper played in the centre of the Londoners' defence in Saturday's 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough at The Den.
Lions boss Neil Harris has recently rejected a £3m bid from Steven Gerrard's Rangers. But United could offer more and still be in profit from the sale of O'Connell.
United’s defeat at the Lane after having taken the lead against newly-relegated Swansea who claimed their first away win of the calendar year, underlined the need to strengthen the forward line before the transfer window for permanent signings closes on Thursday.
Hopes that Martyn Waghorn, Ipswich’s 16-goal top scorer last season, will be coming to South Yorkshire are still alive at the Lane, although promotion favourites Middlesbrough are expected to win his signature.
The Blades were thought to have been priced out of the race which also includes Frank Lampard’s Derby County. But United, who had a £5m bid rejected, are not giving up hope that they may be able to clinch a deal for the striker the Tractor Boys value at around £8m.
The money raised from the sale of O’Connell, however, as well as buying a replacement could strengthen Wilder’s hand to attract other targets. Should the deadline pass without success he will still have extra funds to help meet shared wages in the loan market. Given the number of strikers in the top flight who can't get regular football, it may well prove to be a better option in the short-term.
Of course, there remains a chance O’Connell will remain a Blade. If so, no-one will be happier than Wilder and an army of Unitedites.
But if Brighton have increased their offer to £8m as reported, it is more likely the player understandably will want the opportunity to test himself against the best in the Premier League and United are succeeding in forcing Brighton’s hand to meet their valuation.