They seek him here, they seek him there… the hunt for the signature of Scunthorpe United striker Billy Sharp took another unexopected twist this weekend as northern newspaper reports linked the in-demand 21-year-old to a return to the club of his boyhood, Sheffield United.
And with the Sheffield Star today insisting that the exit of Wednesday striker Steve MacLean to Cardiff City over the weekend has merely fuelled Brian Laws' desire at Hillsborough to get his one-time Irons charge in the building before the start of pre-season training on Thursday, so one or two glances were being directed in the direction of the Steel City as everyone waited to hear the player's verdict as to where his future lay.
Scunthorpe United chairman Steve Wharton this morning dismissed claims of a Blades link – as well he might.
Given that United are due a 25% sell-on on their one-time youth product over and above that original ?100,000 fee, selling him back to the South Yorkshire club could potentially rob the Irons of the kind of ?475,000 'lever' they have used with every other suitor to get the price over and above that ?2 million mark.
“It's news to me,” Wharton told the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph this morning, as the Irons chief revealed that Norwich's own, ?2 million bid still sat on his table – there had been no fresh contact with the Norfolk club since City boss Peter Grant gave Sharp the 'grand tour' of Colney and Carrow Road last Wednesday.
“To the best of my knowledge there has been no contact with Sheffield United. And there has been no further contact with Norwich,” said Wharton.
“I am waiting now for Billy to get back in touch with me to see what his intentions are.”
The United link could merely delay any decision further as new Blades boss Bryan Robson waits on the final decision of the Premier League's arbitration panel before knowing whether or not he is facing a season back in the Championship or can plan a ?60 million lifestyle at West Ham United's expense.
That decision is expected this week. Speaking to the Sheffield Star last December, Sharp himself gave it the full 'never say never…' routine when quizzed as to whether he would fancy a return to Bramall Lane.
The player comes from a staunchly 'Red' family and is understood to be close to Ron Reid, the head of United's Youth Academy.
Indeed, such is the colour of his blood that it may yet make him think long and hard about joining the 'Blue' half of the city.
“You can never say never in football. Who knows? But I'm a Scunthorpe player now and that's all I'm bothered about,” said Sharp to The Star last year.
It was clear from the same interview, however, that he bore Blades no ill-will for letting him go. The fact that then boss Neil Warnock has gone ensures that there will be even less embarrassment for both parties if Sharp should make a home-coming.
“Neil said to me that he didn't want me to leave but that he didn't think I was ready to play regularly in the United team,” said Sharp.
“I've heard it said that he made a mistake, but he obviously didn't because they got promoted didn't they?
“But I'd been playing in the reserves for quite a long time and I didn't want to just keep on doing that so I asked for five or six games to prove myself but that wasn't possible.
“So it was a case of one step back to hopefully take a couple forward. Of course I was a little bit jealous when United went up – they're my team; always will be – and a little part of me thought I could be connected to a Premiership club now.
“But, in all honesty, I'd rather be Billy Sharp first team striker at Scunthorpe than in and out of the United team. There's no hard feelings and no regrets.”
Across the city and the word remained that Laws was very much in the hunt – particularly after top-scorer MacLean headed off to Ninian Park on a free.
Had he agreed a new deal at Hillsborough it would have led to a further, appearance-related fee being sent to Rangers as part of his original deal. The Owls chief made it clear that he wanted that extra financial freedom to move elsewhere in the transfer market. To Glanford Park, you presume.
“He would have become a major player,” the Sheffield Star reported Laws as saying this morning.
“That is something I had to consider because my budget is not that big and I have to be very prudent,” he added. “I need to strengthen the team and therefore cannot be giving out extraordinary contracts. So there was a stumbling block.”
MacLean will at least recognise one face at Cardiff – his one-time Ibrox team-mate Gavin Rae who was also unveiled by the Bluebirds over the weekend. Widely linked to a move to Norwich, Rae's injury record makes Cardiff's move something of a gamble – particularly if reports of a ?9,000-a-week pay deal are anywhere near the mark.
Meanwhile that December interview with Sharp is interesting for another reason – if only for the fact that the player himself, then still in tandem with the Wolves-bound Andy Keogh, gave his own insight into his playing style.
“I'm not the biggest and I'm not the quickest,” he admitted to The Star.
“But I've learned to read the game and I've got a good turn of pace over five or six yards.
“I'm always analysing matches, when I sit in the stands and watch I'm thinking he should have run here or he should have run there.
“You get to learn things; know your team mates. If the winger's got his head down and struggling to make a cross you know, chances are, it's going to come in hard and low. If he's watching you all the way then it's up to me to make space. Little things like that can make all the difference.
“But most of all I like to set myself targets, 20 goals a season, that's what every forward wants to achieve.”