Sander Berge: Sheffield United boss Slavisa Jokanovic's pitch to Arsenal and Napoli target is revealed
Sander Berge will be told his career could be best served by remaining with Sheffield United next season and helping them try and regain their place in the Premier League rather than engineering a move to either Napoli or Arsenal.
Although he concedes Berge has plenty of financial incentives to leave - like the rest of United’s squad, his wages have been cut following relegation - Slavisa Jokanovic is convinced there are also sound footballing reasons why he should stay at Bramall Lane for at least another 12 months.
Those, combined with a promise that Berge can move on if United fail to win promotion next term, are believed to form the basis of the new United manager’s pitch to the Norway international.
Speaking during his official unveiling a fortnight ago, Jokanovic admitted to being made “aware” of a “situation” involving Berge by his board of directors before agreeing to replace Chris Wilder in May.
The 23-year-old is thought to have signalled his intention to leave if United were demoted soon after Christmas, when he was still recovering from a serious hamstring injury. However, rather than insisting he honoured his contract, United began preparing the groundwork for his exit - privately letting it be known they would demand at least £35m for a player they signed for £22m 12 months earlier.
But Jokanovic’s presence has prompted a change of approach, and mood, behind the scenes. Berge is still viewed as the most expendiable of all United’s leading names, with the club’s hierarchy aware that selling him at profit would allow them to recoup some of the losses experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But it is inconceivable that Jokanovic, a promotion winner with both Watford and Fulham, would have spoken so publicly about his desire to keep Berge without the blessing of United’s owner HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Cynics will argue that raising to possibility Berge could stay is part of an elaborate PR exercise designed to protect United from accusations they have spent most of the year touring him around Europe. But people who have worked with Jokanovic in the past confirm he has no time for spin or politics; preferring to “tell it how it is” according to one and then “deal with the consequences.”
Jokanovic’s theory about what would best suit Berge is based on the idea that he would be a guaranteed starter with United. Mikel Arteta and Luciano Spaletti, Jokanovic’s opposite number in north London and Campania, will not be able to provide the same guarantee. Playing second tier football in England, at least for a brief period, is also unlikely to affect his standing with the national squad - something Jokanovic will also attempt to press home when the pair sit down for talks.
With neither Napoli nor Arsenal prepared to meet United’s valuation, there is also a possibility that a third club could attempt to exploit the impasse by submitting an offer of their own. Aston Villa have been linked with Berge in the past although they would also baulk at United’s asking price.