Sheffield United: Boss makes a big admission about Sander Berge amid transfer talk
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The Norway international, who is understood to be open to the idea of leaving Bramall Lane before the end of the transfer window, scored his sixth goal in 22 outings for both club and country during the 2-0 win over Millwall.
After spending much of the summer fielding questions about Berge’s future at United, where some senior figures behind the scenes have refused to criticise the player’s representatives for touting their client around Europe, Heckingbottom reiterated his desire to retain the 24-year-old’s services following Saturday’s meeting with Gary Rowett’s side.
But he admitted: “Sander was excellent and, if he performs like that every time, someone will pay millions for him - the value will either be too good to turn down or it hits a release clause.”
“I’ve been there before,” the former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian chief added. “You want players who are in demand. It means they are doing something right because people aren’t interested in ones who aren’t.
“Sander is doing his talking on the pitch.”
Berge’s strike, after the equally impressive Iliman Ndiaye had broken the deadlock and before Oliver Norwood missed a first-half penalty, helped United bounce back from their defeat by Watford during the opening round of Championship fixtures this term.
The midfielder’s contract, which is scheduled to expire in 2024, contains a stipulation entitling him to speak to anyone who bids £35m for his services. Despite being linked with the likes of Napoli and Newcastle in recent months, Club Brugge are the only side thought to have submitted a concrete offer. However, this was rejected by Heckingbottom’s employers after it was deemed to fall too far below their valuation.
Nevertheless, potential suitors could be encouraged by the fact United’s hierarchy are expected to consider any approach which either offers them a return or covers a large portion of the £22m they paid to acquire Berge from Genk two years ago.
Despite bolstering his attacking options by recruiting Manchester City youngster James McAtee on loan before the clash with Millwall - a move which has raised suspicions United are looking to cover themselves in the event of a sale - Heckingbottom has made no secret of the fact he wants Berge to remain in South Yorkshire for the time being.
Acknowledging the realities of United’s business model following their relegation from the Premier League and last term’s failure to regain top-flight status - “We’ve been clear on that, producing players who you can sell for lots of money” - Heckingbottom warned the risk of diminishing his squad’s promotion prospects must also be factored into any decision relating to departures.
“My bit is that it can’t be at the expense of performance,” he said. “If it was up to me, that’s it. The window is done.”
United return to action at West Bromwich Albion in the Carabao Cup on Thursday, before travelling to Middlesbrough this weekend where they will face opponents led by Chris Wilder; the manager responsible for leading them from the third to the first tier of English football before departing following the deterioration of his relationship with certain members of the board.