Sheffield United boss sends transfer window message to the top brass amid deal uncertainty
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As The Star first revealed last week, Berge’s immediate future is again in doubt after it emerged some figures within the game are so convinced United will attempt to sell the midfielder this summer that they are already attempting to muscle in on the deal, despite not being linked directly to either Heckingbottom or the player himself. Ndiaye, meanwhile, is likely to attract offers as he also enters the final 12 months of his present contract after attracting interest from home and abroad.
The speculation surrounding Berge and Ndiaye runs contrary to comments made by United owner Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud following his team’s return to the Premier League, when he declared his commitment towards retaining two of Heckingbottom’s most valuable performers. But the fact that people whose job it is to trade players are receiving mixed messages suggests that not everyone at United believes it makes sense to risk losing Berge and Ndiaye for nothing.
Heckingbottom is not among them, having already acknowledged he fought hard to retain the duo’s services in January when his employers were still operating under a transfer embargo. Berge was being monitored by Newcastle and West Ham, who were recently approached about the midfielder again by an independent broker. Everton wanted Ndiaye but with United’s push for the top-flight still delicately poised, Heckingbottom’s argument that losing either would adversely affect their promotion chances won through.
“We want to be the best that we can be,” he said. “In order to do that, we’ve got to keep our best players and try to build on that.”
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Heckingbottom is prepared to use the same reasoning again, as he bids to receive a cast-iron undertaking that Berge and Ndiaye, who represented Senegal at last year’s World Cup, will still be in situ when the latest window closes. His reasoning is thus: Even if the money raised from selling either was diverted back into his recruitment budget, United, who are unable to compete with the majority of the division on fees or wages, would still not be able to acquire replacements of comparable quality.
Heckingbottom has briefed the pair on his viewpoint and, although nothing can ever be certain in professional sport, clearly feels emboldened enough by their responses to continue his resistance to any sale.
Heckingbottom met Prince Abdullah and representatives of United World - the organisation which governs the Saudi Arabian’s interests in Beerschot, Kerala United, Chateauroux, Al-Hilal United and of course United themselves - in Geneva last month. Ostensibly called to discuss targets, sources with knowledge of the agenda claimed he also reiterated his feelings about Ndiaye and Berge.
Although chief executive Steve Bettis frequently acts as a conduit between Heckingbottom and Prince Abdullah, the pair are also known to speak frequently via video conferencing facilities such as Zoom.