Ismaila Coulibaly has been told he will earn a place in Sheffield United’s squad for 2022-23 campaign if he can impress manager Paul Heckingbottom during pre-season. The Mali-born midfielder arrived at the club’s Randox Health Academy this week.
The club is still waiting for his visa to arrive from the relevant authorities, but it is expected to be here in time for him to feature in the friendly matches and for him to be part of the club’s tour to Portugal.
As Yorkshire Live revealed last week, it promises to be an important summer for the 21-year-old as he looks to stake a claim for a Sheffield United shirt. He has spent the past couple of seasons on loan at United World sister club Beerschot in Belgium having joined in the summer of 2020 from Norwegian side Sarpsborg.
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Heckingbottom had a look at him in March during the international break and although the experience was an eye opener for the youngster, the Blades boss was impressed with what he saw.
And so too was Coulibaly.
“We brought him over to look round, meet everyone and get involved and he loved it,” Heckingbottom told Yorkshire Live. “He’d not experienced that.
“It gave him a little boost because he was coming off the back of a bad injury in his back, which really affected him. He found it tough in terms of the physicality of it and training intensity. He’d been out a long time and was just coming back from his injury.
“He’s going to find this tough as well and this pre-season tough. We want him to experience it and want him to get the full benefit of it and see where he is.”
He enjoyed a really good first season with Beerschot. He found the net five times from midfield and also grabbed the headlines in a 2-1 win over Anderlecht when he dominated the match and, in particular, his opposite number Albert Sambi Lokonga, who is now at Arsenal.
That led to interest from a number of clubs around Europe, but an injury-plagued second season, combined with three manager changes saw him fail to reach the same heights.
Heckingbottom says United are well aware they could have a talent on their hands if they can get him back to that level and he will give him the whole of pre-season to try and impress.
He added: “We will have a really good look at him and get him in amongst the squad this pre-season and then we’ll take it from there. I don’t know how much you have seen of him before he went to Beerschot, but he created a lot of interest in that first season and we want that.
“He had that injury that wasn’t flagged up and played with it a bit and really suffered off the back of that. Hopefully, he’s over that now and we get him back to the form why the club signed him and where there has been offers and interest in him.
“Here’s here now. We are more or less there with his paperwork and if everything goes to plan he’ll feature [in friendlies]. He’s one of our group and we’ll see where he’s at.
“The only way we would get him anywhere near our team if he is good enough is getting him acclimatised to what English football and the Championship is. Regardless of whether he’s getting minutes, I think he needs to feel it and experience it.”
If he can impress Heckingbottom in the coming weeks and prove his worth, he will be handed a shirt. If not, the club will then look to send him out on loan again but to a team where it would not affect his visa.
That was also a factor behind the thinking in bringing him back now.
“That was the biggest decision regarding coming back,” Heckingbottom explained. “It wasn’t anything against Beerschot or saying ‘right, he’s coming straight in our team’ the big concern was that if we didn’t do it now we wouldn’t be able to bring him back.
“Beerschot would have benefited but from a business point of view for Sheffield United he’s our player and we would never be able to use him.”
Sheffield United fans have only seen snippets on YouTube of what he can offer. The box-to-box midfielder has an eye for goal, is not afraid to shoot and times his runs to arrive late in the area.
Heckingbottom has thrown the gauntlet down, it’s now over to Coulibaly to grab his chance.
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Post source: In The Know