Sander Berge: Sheffield United in admission over midfielder's future as Liverpool reportedly linked
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Amid mounting speculation that Berge could move on before next month’s deadline, even if one of the 24-year-old’s suitors fail to trigger the release clause contained within his contract, Heckingbottom has again applied pressure on United’s board to resist the temptation to cash in on the Championship club’s most valuable talent.
Reports last night have suggested that Liverpool could be the latest club to declare an interest in Berge, with Anfield boss Jurgen Klopp known to be an admirer.
Last season’s Premier League runners-up were already deemed to be light in the middle of the park before the season began but have since been hampered further by an injury to Thiago Alcântara.
Intriguingly, despite claiming before last night’s win over Sunderland that coaching staff are confident Berge will remain in South Yorkshire unless someone tables an offer of at least £35m, Heckingbottom also conceded he would not “get all of that” money to reinvest should the former Genk player depart.
That admission, coupled with the fact market conditions mean it is unlikely United will receive such a bid, suggests he fears his employers might consider allowing Berge to leave for less.
As The Star reported during the closing season, senior figures behind the scenes believe anyone willing to cover the £22m United paid to acquire Berge’s services in January 2020 would be granted permission to speak with his representatives.
“The message from the board is that we don’t have to sell and that’s what I'm after,” Heckingbottom said. “If he does move because of the buyout then we are going to need another good player aren’t we.
“There is an internal value and the external value. The internal value is priceless as far as I’m concerned, although there is a value on him.
“But there is an external one too. If I’m realistic, what he goes for I’m not going to get all of that.
“And it would be unfair then on whoever comes in to have people think that they are going to replace him. That’s why I’m trying to protect the team and make people aware of the pro’s and the con’s”
That remark appears to confirm that some members of United’s hierarchy are willing to entertain the prospect of selling Berge, who is known to be interested in joining a side competing regularly in Europe.
Having made only two permanent signings since being beaten by eventual winners Nottingham Forest in last term’s play-offs - only one of which, Anel Ahmedhodzic, commanded a fee - Heckingbottom is clearly working to a strict budget. Despite costing £1.5m less than Rhian Brewster, Berge is thought to be United’s highest wage earner.
Club Brugge are known to be keen on luring him back to Belgium. However, despite receiving around £30m from Milan in exchange for Charles De Ketelaere, the 18-time national champions will not use all of that fee to capture Berge.
“He’s a fantastic lad and that's how he comes across,” Heckingbottom said, who confirmed Berge is “ambitious” earlier this week. “He’s quietly spoken and not the most vocal but there is a burning desire in him to be the best he can be.
“You sign a contract and he can play his way into a move. He knows that. I know that. He loves his football and he loves it at Sheffield United. He said last year it was the most enjoyable in terms of where he was playing. That was good to hear.”