Paul Heckingbottom on Sheffield United futures of Chris Basham, Billy Sharp, Jack Robinson, Ben Osborn, David McGoldrick, Adam Davies, Luke Freeman and Lys Mousset
This Easter weekend will go some way to providing more clarity as the Blades look to be part of what their manager sees as one of league football’s great innovations, the play-offs.
There are decisions to be made on Billy Sharp, Chris Basham, Jack Robinson, Ben Osborn, David McGoldrick, Adam Davies, Luke Freeman and Lys Mousset, whose contracts expire this summer. In most cases the club can automatically trigger an extra 12 months but having loaned out Freeman and Mousset it would be a surprise were they to do so with either of them. Heckingbottom says Sharp and Basham are “100 per cent” part of his plans but are in negotiations with the club, suggesting new deals rather than simply extensions.
Others may have to wait and see what division the Blades are in. Promotion via the Championship play-offs would mean a much bigger budget, but a higher standard of player required.
And Heckingbottom, who appears uncertain what finances he will be working with at either level, says decisions will not be made based simply on 2022-23.
“I haven’t had a conversation with Steve (Bettis, the chief executive) yet, we’re waiting for it all to be firmed up but the work (on recruitment) started ages ago,” said Heckingbottom, who has had Basham back in training this week after a knee injury which has kept him out since February.
“We’re working towards one set of things and if we’re told different we’ll change it. But we have to be contacting people and see what’s out there.
“You can’t just wait until the end of the season and then start doing it when the window opens.
“With the (post-Brexit work permit) changes it’s a lot harder for players to qualify to play over here. The majority who can are top end and out of our price range. Young players who can jump up the divisions and free transfers in our league, that’s the market we’re looking in.
“Lots of things won’t be resolved until the summer – finances, what league we’re in, availability of players. We won’t be saying one thing and another thing happening and I think they trust me on that.
“You’ve got to look at this next window, the one after, the following one. If we fill the squad with loans in the summer you imagine the amount of players we’re going to have to sign the summer after that and you’re just waiting to fall off the edge of a cliff. They’re as much business decisions as football ones.”
Sheffield United host Reading on Good Friday before travelling to Bristol City on Easter Monday, and a number of the teams around them play each other.
“After this weekend the majority have got three games left and you’ll know what you need,” said Heckingbottom. “But the play-offs will go down to the wire regardless.
“The play-offs were the best change made in football. I’ve been involved in five – four as a player, one as a manager. They’re brilliant. The season would be over for so many in all the leagues if we didn’t have them.
“The hard work is getting there and we’re miles away (yet).”
In the meantime he is not going to fret about how the Blades’ rivals perform.
“I try and get my balance with work right,” he said. “When I’m with the wife and kids I need to give them time so I’ll certainly switch off. If I’ve promised one of my daughters we’ll do something, we’re doing it.
“If not, I could watch the whole Huddersfield-Luton game but what have I really got out of it? The result’s still the same.
“This work drives me and our players and our staff. The rest takes care of itself.”