SHEFFIELD UNITED have been handed a double boost following their impressive start to the Premier League campaign.
Hours after key midfielder Oliver Norwood announced his retirement from international football with Northern Ireland at the age of 28 – in order to fully concentrate on his club career – defender George Baldock signed a new deal with the top-flight newcomers.
Norwood missed his country’s European Championship qualifiers with Estonia and Belarus at the end of last season following a hernia operation.
A desire to give himself the best possible chance of establishing himself in the Premier League at this stage of his career is likely to have been at the heart of his reason to quit the international scene.
But the decision of Burnley-born Norwood, who qualified to play for Northern Ireland through his grandfather, has been labelled as “premature” and a “huge mistake” by Windsor Park chief Michael O’Neill.
He said: “I think he is making a huge mistake. He is only 28 and I have no doubt he could have continued to play club and international football for many years.
“Ollie has been a mainstay of our team for the past seven years.
“I know this was not an easy decision for Ollie to make, however I think his decision is premature.
“He had the opportunity to leave an incredible legacy at international level and the potential to reach 100 caps.”
Norwood, who played through the pain barrier at times last term before being afforded some rest and recuperation after surgery, added: “After proudly representing Northern Ireland on 57 occasions, I feel now is the right time to announce my retirement from international football.
“I have enjoyed the highs of a major tournament – being part of the squad in France at Euro 2016 was the proudest point of my international career.”
Meanwhile, Baldock – linked with a move to SPL giants Celtic earlier this summer – has revealed his delight after signing a new contract, committing his future at Bramall Lane until the summer of 2022.
The wing-back, 26, whose previous deal was due to expire next June, said: “It is a club that is going places and I want to be a part of it.
“It (discussions) has been going on a while, but I am absolutely thrilled to get it over the line and I will crack on and hopefully put some good performances in and we will see where it takes us.”