The £15m lethal signing that could help Sheffield United beat the drop - and forget all about Iliman Ndiaye

The Blades have been linked with a potential swoop for Middlesbrough striker Chuba Akpom
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In the immortal words of ESPN 8 The Ocho Dodgeball co-commentator Pepper Brooks, ‘That’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for ‘em.’

Sheffield United have returned to the Premier League after a two year absence, and have decided to mark the occasion by selling their two best players. First, Iliman Ndiaye jetted off for Marseille, then Sander Berge became the latest talent to receive the ‘Burnley pop culture reference transfer announcement video’ treatment earlier this week. Factor in the departures of Manchester City loanees James McAtee and Tommy Doyle, and morale in the Steel City has begun to rust accordingly.

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The Blades look considerably duller than they did at the end of their Championship promotion campaign, and any optimism they have garnered heading into the new season has dissipated substantially. But there is still time for a crisis to be averted.

Middlesbrough striker Chuba Akpom, a target of Premier League side Sheffield United. He is pictured scoring against the Blades early last season. Picture: Getty Images.Middlesbrough striker Chuba Akpom, a target of Premier League side Sheffield United. He is pictured scoring against the Blades early last season. Picture: Getty Images.
Middlesbrough striker Chuba Akpom, a target of Premier League side Sheffield United. He is pictured scoring against the Blades early last season. Picture: Getty Images.

Already, United have swooped to recruit Brazilian midfielder Vinicius Souza from Belgian outfit Lommel for an undisclosed fee, while Mike McGrath of the Daily Telegraph reports that a deal has also been agreed for Coventry City star Gustavo Hamer, who is expected to undergo a medical shortly. Now you would imagine that attentions at Bramall Lane will swiftly turn towards further attacking reinforcements.

In particular, Middlesbrough striker Chuba Akpom has been touted as a target, although the situation surrounding the 27-year-old is a fairly complex one. Firstly, United could face competition from the likes of Ajax and RC Lens in the race to sign, and it has been reported that the latter have already tabled a bid of around £8 million for his signature. Secondly, and perhaps more problematic still, it is claimed that Boro could seek as much as £15 million for their talisman.

But despite the steep valuation, United should absolutely firm up their interest in the former Arsenal forward. Time and time again, it has been proven that goals keep you up. So often the teams who succumb to the quicksand pull of relegation are the ones who couldn’t find the back of a net if they were marooned on a fishing trawler. On the evidence of last season, Akpom would go a long way towards preventing that issue from besetting the Blades.

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Across 38 Championship outings, the striker hit 28 goals and assisted two more. Unsurprisingly, he won the division’s golden boot by quite some distance, and was named both Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year for Boro at the end of the 2022/23 campaign.

But it’s just not the sheer volume of his goals that suggests Akpom is ready for a step up to the top flight. His all-round game is that of a player who has soundly outgrown the confines of the second tier. He carries the ball exceptionally well, he puts himself about as a real physical presence, and his intelligence and cunning in key situations and areas is exemplary.

Throughout his career, there have been questions marks over whether or not Akpom would ever truly live up to the potential that he showed as an Arsenal youth prospect. For large periods of time he has bobbed around in a state of relative mediocrity. But last season he seemed to finally find his groove, and at 27, he is very much in the prime of his career.

Whether the £15 million being quoted by Boro is a little excessive is a matter of subjectivity, and United could be doubly reluctant to pay that kind of fee if they also wrap up a fairly lavish deal for Hamer. But in some respects, you can’t put a price on goals, and Akpom all but guarantees them.

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The hope will be that there is a touch of wiggle room in Boro’s valuation, and that their current stance is just an attempt at some kind of obstinate posturing. Even if it is not, however, and if Michael Carrick’s men dig their heels in, the Blades should really, seriously consider testing their resolve.