James Shield: A good transfer window for Sheffield United, but questions still remain

On the face of it, an excellent transfer window for the coaching staff at Sheffield United.
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Sheffield United: Sander Berge and the story of transfer deadline day at Bramall...

Anel Ahmedhodzic was bought for a song. His recent performances have proved that. The excellent Reda Khadra and Tommy Doyle were also acquired on loan. Ciaran Clark and Adam Davies should prove their worth once recovered from injury. The same goes for James McAtee, when he’s acclimatised to the demands of Championship football.

Perhaps most importantly, however, Sander Berge stayed. The Norway international, whose courtship with Club Brugge dominated deadline day - well, in this corner of South Yorkshire at least - still has a long way to go before fulfilling his potential. But he has emerged as a key member of the squad which prepared for tomorrow’s visit to Hull City on top of the Championship table. Unless something has gone badly wrong behind the scenes at Bramall Lane, it would have made absolutely no sense to sell the midfielder now. Something Paul Heckingbottom had pointed out on numerous occasions in recent weeks, arguing any offers which didn’t trigger Berge’s release clause should have been rejected out of hand.

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“It fizzled out for us, which is what we wanted,” Heckingbottom said. “Lots was happening behind the scenes and you are always wary about what might happen. If you are talking specifically about Sander, there were no further offers but plenty of conversations. Some really good Premier League clubs were discussing him too, but no one could meet the number.”

Once the delight of bumping into the 24-year-old during yesterday’s training session subsides, when the novelty of being able to select him at the MKM Stadium wears-off, United’s manager might try and discover why a line of communication remained open with Belgians long after it became clear they couldn’t stump-up the £35m which would have seen him booked on the first available flight to Brussels Airport.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Andrew Yates / SportimageSheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

But those awkward conversations can wait. For the time being he’ll celebrate.

Whether or not United’s bean counters view this summer’s events quite the same way remains to be seen. Having recently taken out another facility with MacQuarie Bank, those tasked with looking after the club’s financial rather than footballing results, (although the two are not as mutually exclusive as some folk might like to pretend), clearly felt it was worth testing the temperature of the water at the Jan Breydel Stadium. Why they felt it was worth dipping their toes in to begin with has yet to be explained. Unless Berge was aggressively agitating for a move - one of his former teammates, now grazing on pastures new, did so far more forcefully than anyone realised at the time - then one can only guess at the reasons. But Heckingbottom has denied this was the case, despite describing the player as “ambitious.” Which, translated from coaching-speak into everyday English, means he quite fancied the idea of competing at the highest level. Maybe even in Europe, where Carl Hoefkens’ side are about to enter the Champions League.

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If he’d departed, then having seen their client showcase his talents again on Europe’s greatest sporting stage, Berge’s representatives would doubtless have explored the possibility of placing him somewhere else. Perhaps United’s money men and women calculated they might be able to secure a percentage of any future sale which, providing Brugge’s initial down payment was high enough, would eventually see them recoup somewhere near the amount they were looking for. Everything, including why the guy reportedly lined-up as Berge’s potential replacement - Montreal’s Ismael Kone - would have cost around a seventh of what United could potentially have asked for - will all become clear in the fullness of time. It always does. Even in a business where not everything is always quite as it seems.

Sheffield United's Iliman Ndiaye will soon be a player in demand: George Wood/Getty ImagesSheffield United's Iliman Ndiaye will soon be a player in demand: George Wood/Getty Images
Sheffield United's Iliman Ndiaye will soon be a player in demand: George Wood/Getty Images

Still, until that happens, we can all be encouraged by the fact Heckingbottom’s squad appears much stronger now than it did in May.

“Fortunately for me, he’s still here,” Heckingbottom continued, referring to Berge. “The squad is together.”

There are, once the backslapping finishes however, still problems to be addressed.

The Star's Sheffield United writer James ShieldThe Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield
The Star's Sheffield United writer James Shield
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Although loans have become the recruitment tool of choice for the majority of the English Football League’s members, United are still overly reliant upon players who may or may not be around come the end of the campaign. Particularly when you remember that a huge swathe of those who are tied to permanent arrangements could soon become free agents. In order to ensure the balance of power rests with them, to remain in control of their own destiny, United must now knuckle down for a long winter of contractual negotiations. Those individuals set to be in the highest demand when the market reopens in January need to be prioritised. They include Iliman Ndiaye and Oliver Norwood, whose importance has become apparent in recent weeks. Don’t forget, although folk will try and put a different slant on things if these talks are not quickly concluded, Heckingbottom explicitly stated that “uncertainty” can have a debilitating effect upon performance towards the end of his spell in caretaker charge two seasons ago. It might even be an idea to discreetly approach Berge to gauge whether or not he fancies extending his deal in exchange for an adjustment to his release fee. After all, having demonstrated they are willing to haggle, United can’t expect anyone to meet it now.

So far so good. But Heckingbottom’s employers must now focus their attention on ensuring both he and his staff are in a position to build upon the good work which has been completed so far.