Explained: Why Sheffield United were ready to splash the cash

When Sheffield United paid £22m to sign Sander Berge, it was portrayed in some quarters as a statement of intent.

Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 5:01 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 5:05 pm

Not because of the player’s calibre. Although, given he had the pick of some of Europe’s leading names, it was a major coup for the club to acquire a footballer of his talents.

Rather, after paying only £2m less for Oli McBurnie six months earlier, United’s sudden willingness to spend - and by their own standards, spend big - convinced some of those who had previously doubted their ambitions that Chris Wilder’s employers are serious about becoming a Premier League force.

The combined outlay on both is, it must be remembered, nearly 90 times the amount it cost to snare Simon Moore; the manager’s most expensive recruit immediately after being appointed less than four years ago.

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Although it has yet to be confirmed if the money has come from an external source - or, as some suspect, the revenues United will receive after effectively ensuring they will be in the top-flight again next term - Wilder has insisted the board’s decision to loosen the purse strings does not represent a potentially dangerous financial gamble.

Explaining the details of United’s budget does not fall within his remit. But, after pledging to “always spend” their funding “as if it were my own”, Wilder felt compelled to offer some reassurances following Berge’s record breaking arrival.

“Sander is obviously the big one,” he said, referring to last month’s recruitment drive which also delivered Panos Retsos, Jack Rodwell, Richairo Zivkovic and Jack Robinson to Bramall Lane.

“But it’s structured and we’re not putting ourselves in a position financially where we’re going to struggle.

Sheffield United's Sander Berge applauds the fans after the final whistle during the Premier League match at Selhurst Park, London: Tess Derry/PA Wire.

“The owners made money available and we’ve tried to strengthen in the best position-specific way possible where we felt we needed to.

“I believe we’ve done that.”

Although neither United nor Genk, Berge’s former club, have revealed the small print of the agreement which delivered the midfielder to South Yorkshire, Wilder’s comments suggest a significant portion of the fee is comprised of performance related benefits.

That would mirror the way United’s deal for McBurnie was also put together; with an estimated £17.5m payable to Swansea City up-front and the rest if he helped them retain PL status.

Oli McBurnie celebrates one of his Premier League goals for Sheffield United: Chloe Hudson/Sportimage

Genk were initially determined to retain Berge’s services until the end of the campaign, mooting the possibility of a loan-back agreement when United resurrected their interest soon after Christmas. But their bargaining position was weakened when the youngster made it clear he wanted to leave, warning he had no intention of extending a contract which was set to expire next summer.

United are unlikely to have passed-up the opportunity to exploit that weakness, while Berge’s value is only likely to rise should be progress as expected. Already a senior Norway international, the 21-year-old could soon be worth nearly double if he successfully adapts to life in England which, in turn, will have a positive effect upon United’s balance sheet.

Their moves for both Berge and McBurnie, aged 23, can be viewed as investments for the future; both on the pitch, where United are sixth in the table ahead of Sunday’s game against AFC Bournemouth, and off it too.

“We always try and be sensible in everything that we do,” Wilder said. “The club’s interests come first.”

Michael Verrips of and his fellow Sheffield United goalkeeper Simon Moore (R): Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Chris Wilder shakes hands with Sheffield United owner HRH Prince Abdullah: Simon Bellis/Sportimage