SHEFFIELD UNITED manager Chris Wilder has lavished praise in the direction of Oli McBurnie – and insists that any criticism levelled at the club’s record signing is wholly unjust.
The former Swansea City player, 23, produced a tireless performance in Tuesday’s 1-0 reverse to reigning Premier League champions Manchester City, which was almost crowned when he just failed to convert Enda Stevens’s cross shortly before the visitors struck in the 73rd minute through Sergio Aguero.
McBurnie has found the net just four times since the Leeds-born striker’s £20m move from Swansea, but Wilder insists that figures can be misleading with his overall value not in question whasotever.
His message is clear and unequivocal to anyone who may doubt his goal-scoring input.
Wilder said: “I thought Oli was great. He is still a young kid.
“For us, the fee is what we had to pay, that is not his fault. But he is a young player in his first steps into the Premier League.
“I thought he was outstanding. If any Sheffield United fan had any criticism of that boy, then they want to give their head a shake, really.
“He is still a young kid who is giving it a right go.
“He will be disappointed he did not score, but I thought his link-up play was great and he was aggressive and he asked the question. He played his part in a decent performance from us.
“From our point of view as a football club, you respect what is in the other changing room. Of course, you do. I have been in the game long enough.
“But we do not fear teams. We will go after them individually and as a team and club.”
Wilder has also revealed that he is speaking to Manchester United about the prospect of bringing back goalkeeper Dean Henderson to Bramall Lane for a third time – and doubts whether the loanee would countenance being a No 2 to anyone.
Henderson, 22, produced a magnificent first-half performance in the Blades’ narrow defeat to City, making brilliant saves to thwart Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Otamendi and topping things off with a penalty save to deny Gabriel Jesus.
Performances such as those will only intensify the clamour for him to be handed a senior debut by England after being called up to the squad by Gareth Southgate in the autumn following an injury to Tom Heaton.
Blades fans entered into a rousing chorus of ‘England’s number one’ after his penalty save.
Henderson’s loan runs out in the summer, with the Cumbrian’s contract at Old Trafford expiring in the summer of 2022.
The Old Trafford academy product has been with the Red Devils since the age of 14, but Wilder believes he is at an age and a mindset where he will not want to play second fiddle to anyone, including United’s David De Gea, widely recognised as one of the best in the world.
Wilder said: “Henderson wants to play first-team football. Maybe I should not be saying this, but I am not too sure he will play as back-up to anyone. That is just the character of the boy.
“Maybe he will come out and say it.
“If there is a decision from Manchester United for him to come out to us again, we’d gladly take that up. We have already started talking with them.
“But, obviously, he is their player and that decision will be taken on behalf of Manchester United and the player.
“But he has been outstanding for us.
“Look at his age, he is still a baby, isn’t he? People talk about goalkeepers at 27, 28 and 29. So he’s got five, six or seven years on goalkeepers at that age. So the quicker he learns, the better he is going to be.
“Sometimes, you have to go through a bit of pain, which he has done. But he has been outstanding for me right the way through my time here.
“He has not been error-free, which you would not expect him to be, being a young goalkeeper. But what he shows is an ability to learn and move on and a mental strength.
“To chuck one in against Liverpool live on TV and come on as he has shows a lot about his character.
“He has been outstanding. I know there has been a bit of a pecking order in that England group. But they must be really good goalkeepers getting ahead of him at the moment.
“The competition is fierce and there are some good goalkeepers, but I see him up close every day.”