Sheffield United already make their displeasure with Norway coach's Sander Berge stance known
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Speaking ahead of Berge’s return to South Yorkshire following the international break, Solbakken told the Scandinavian media that Berge needs to leave United in order to further his development. It is the second time in the space of a year that the former Wolverhampton Wanderers and Wimbledon midfielder has publicly urged the 25-year-old to orchestrate his departure from a club which paid £22m to sign him from Genk.
Paul Heckingbottom, who is set to be questioned on Solbakken’s latest outburst today when the United manager addresses journalists to preview this weekend’s visit to Norwich City, issued a terse response to his counterpart at the Norwegian Football Federation’s previous intervention into the debate surrounding Berge’s future, admitting that “I see comments from people who shouldn’t be speaking.”
With United’s push for automatic promotion at a delicate stage, Heckingbottom is unlikely to go further when the subject is raised again. But privately, both his colleagues and employers are thought to be angered by Solbakken’s conduct given that they threaten to cause a distraction ahead of a vitally important game. Second in the Championship table and three points clear of third placed Middlesbrough with nine league matches of their season remaining, United are also preparing to face Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday 22nd April (Kick-off 4.45pm).
“The next step for him is that he has to leave the Championship,” Solbakken said. “It has nothing to do with Sheffield United, because they are the second best team there. But it has to do with the football that is generally played there. For him, to take the next step, it may be good to enter a different culture and structure.”
As well as being a slight on the standard of competition in England’s second tier, which many observers would view as being comparable to much of Norway’s Eliteserien, Solbakken’s comments have also raised eyebrows because United could be competing at the highest level by the time the transfer window reopens. The reference to culture is also strange, given that two other members of the squad Solbakken selected for duty against Spain and Georgia also ply their trade on these shores. One of those, Mohamed Elyounoussi appears almost certain to be relegated with Southampton and yet Solbakken has so far remained quiet on his career prospects.
That will raise suspicions at United that Solbakken has an ulterior motive for repeatedly discussing Berge. Heckingbottom, who could be forgiven for viewing Solbakken’s conduct as disrespectful given the position his squad is in ahead of the trip to Carrow Road, might be tempted to contact the NFF to make his irritation at their employee’s conduct known. But again, this course of action is unlikely as he attempts to ensure the narrative at United continues to revolve around football.
“We’ve all got to remain focused on achieving our objectives,” Heckingbottom said, earlier this month. “We know what we are trying to do and we’ve got to ignore all the noise.”