Sheffield United last night claimed a potentially significant victory in the battle for Billy Sharp.
Sources at Bramall Lane told The Star they are close to agreeing a fee, albeit in principle, with the striker’s parent club Leeds which could eventually see him join Nigel Adkins’ side.
Despite this breakthrough in the negotiation process, there are still a number of major hurdles to overcome before Sharp is unveiled as a United player.
With Salary Cost Management Protocol limiting the amount Adkins can pay his leading transfer targets, the 29-year-old would be forced to take a wage cut in order to push through the move.
Massimo Cellino, the Leeds owner, is reportedly loath to effectively subsidise Sharp’s return to South Yorkshire by honouring the remaining 12 months on his present contract. And that could pave the way for Wigan Athletic, who are still in receipt of a Premier League parachute payment despite being relegated from the Championship, to table an offer of their own after Uwe Rosler, Adkins’ counterpart at Elland Road, revealed officials from the DW Stadium have also asked to be kept informed about Sharp’s availability.
The complexity of the situation prompted one senior United official to warn yesterday that discussions about Sharp’s future could drag on “for a number of weeks” although they “remained very hopeful” that a compromise agreement can be reached with Cellino.
Leeds vehemently denied suggestions last week the Italian had accepted a bid, worth around £500,000, from their Yorkshire rivals.
But United are adamant that, while Cellino has yet to formally give them the green light, progress is being made.
Should that assessment prove correct, then Sharp’s future could effectively rest upon Leeds’ willingness to compensate him for honouring the terms and conditions he signed after leaving Southampton in August.
Rosler, who recently bolstered the attacking options at his disposal by capturing Chris Wood and Lee Erwin from Leicester City and Motherwell respectively, said: “He (Sharp) has a lot of experience. He’s a proven goalscorer and we have a number of strikers.
“He’s under contract with us. When other clubs are interested in players they have to talk to Cellino. Then we’ll see if it’s possible or not possible to keep them or let them go. That’s where we are.”
Sharp made his professional debut for United in November 2004 before returning to Bramall Lane, via Scunthorpe, three years later. He has previously worked with Adkins at St Mary’s, Reading and Glanford Park.