Transfer Talk: Blades star Ndiaye proving he's a cut above the rest
Premier League clubs are clamouring for Sheffield United star Iliman Ndiaye.
The forward is enjoying a superb season in South Yorkshire as the Blades look to put last year's play-off heartbreak to bed by securing an automatic promotion spot.
But the Senegal international may soon be plying his trade in England's top flight regardless, given the widespread interest in his services.
Ndiaye must first focus on ending the current campaign strongly, however, to ensure his suitors follow through on their interest this summer — and an FA Cup quarter-final clash with Blackburn is next on the cards.
Reported interest in Ndiaye's services is warranted given the five-cap international's sparkling performances this season.
He has notched a total of 18 Championship goal involvements (11 goals, seven assists) — with only four players in the division managing more ahead of Matchday 38.
And it is not just his end product that has caught the eye.
The 23-year-old poses a real threat when running at opposition defenders, attempting 143 take-ons in league competition this term and completing an impressive 77.
Ndiaye is far from a luxury player, however. The forward pairs his creativity and goal threat with a real commitment to defensive diligence.
In the Championship this term, he has recorded 15 tackles in the attacking third, reflecting his willingness to defend from the front when his side do not have the ball.
That blend of qualities has caught the eye of a number of Premier League suitors — and Blades boss Paul Heckingbottom is confident that his star striker would not look out of place in England's top tier.
He said: "I am going to talk and sound as if I am biased. But you know what I think of Iliman as a player.
"He can do it against anyone — handling the ball in tight areas at the top end of the pitch where the best players do damage. He's got all that.
"Playing in the Championship doesn't mean players don't handle the ball any better. He's unbelievable with the ball and not many Premier League players can do what he does with the ball."
Staying in Sheffield… for now
Despite widely reported interest in Ndiaye, United kept hold of their star man in January.
And Heckingbottom explained that the transfer embargo imposed on the club reinforced their need to keep hold of their best players.
He said: "All I can do is stress the same things — the position we are in, I don't want anyone to leave.
"The landscape has changed, obviously, [with] where we are and what we have got. From a football point of view, if we are under an embargo, [it is] even more important [that] players don't leave.
"My stance on that won't change."
The South Yorkshire side are certainly benefiting from the Rouen native's continued presence in their attack, as they go in search of promotion and further FA Cup progress.
A summer move beckons
United's chances of retaining Ndiaye this summer are somewhat slimmer.
The striker's contract at Bramall Lane only runs until the end of next season and the club's negotiating position will be weakened once he enters the final year of his deal.
Heckingbottom refuted claims of a bid from Everton in January but acknowledged interest in his No29, with Newcastle and West Ham also among those to be linked.
He said: "There has been interest [in our players] and there always is. You start to hear it before windows open.
"There has been interest but there have been no bids."
The Blades cannot expect the same to occur at the end of the campaign and will surely be bracing themselves for offers from higher up the food chain.
FA Cup magic
Ndiaye announced himself to the wider footballing world earlier this month when he came off the bench to score a superb goal in Sheffield United's 1-0 victory over Tottenham in the FA Cup fifth round.
It broke an eight-game scoring drought for the 5ft 11in frontman, who has now struck twice in his last five outings across all competitions. The second was also decisive, during a 1-0 win against Reading.
The Blades have failed to score in two of the three games in which he did not find the net, though, losing 1-0 on both occasions — including last weekend against Luton. However, they will be buoyed by Wednesday night's 2-1 victory at Sunderland.
With a place in the FA Cup semi-finals on the line this afternoon, the stage is set for Ndiaye to sparkle once again. His many suitors will certainly be looking on with interest.