Sheffield United: Leeds United set to show if they mean business over Sander Berge
Less than a week after insisting his focus remains on securing “new arrivals” rather than seeing players leave, Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom could be excused for feeling a little disappointed by the news agenda at Bramall Lane right now.
Yes, an offer for Malmo’s Anel Ahmedhodzic is understood to have been provisionally accepted - although, crucially, no money is yet to change hands. But as he prepares to oversee a warm weather training camp in Portugal, where his squad will also stage a friendly against Casa Pia, the 44-year-old woke up this morning to discover that Olympiacos are now interested in signing defender Max Lowe after Nottingham Forest, who are also owned by Evangelos Marinakis, failed in a bid to prise him away from South Yorkshire during the January transfer window. This revelation, confirmed by sources with knowledge of the reigning Greek champions’ intentions, comes on the back of Oliver Burke’s recent departure to Werder Bremen and reports linking Sander Berge with Leeds.
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After failing to unlock his potential, Burke’s exit did not create much of a stir among United’s following. But if the uncertainty surrounding Berge intensifies, their reaction is likely to be different. Particularly, should Heckingbottom still be waiting to fill the first of “six or seven” vacancies he identified following May’s defeat by Forest in the play-off semi-finals.
It came as no surprise to learn that Berge’s representatives are actively trying to identify potential buyers for their client before this summer’s market closes. Two seasons of second tier football, coupled with another another reduction in his salary after an immediate return to the top-flight failed to materialise, are not part of the career development programme devised by someone who spoke openly about eventually wanting to compete in Europe again following a £22m move from Genk in January 2020. United, of course, were en route to a ninth placed finish in the Premier League when they lured the midfielder away.
With Kalvin Phillips destined for Manchester City, United are about to discover the veracity of stories suggesting Berge features on Jesse Marsch’s wanted list. Or the one compiled by Elland Road’s sporting director Victor Orta to be exact. A fee of around £45m has been agreed for Phillips and, given that Raphina appears set to follow him through the exit door, Orta can’t waste time hiring reinforcements.
However, if Leeds do make an approach, both United and Berge will have big decisions to make.
With payments to Genk believed to have been spread over the course of the Norwegian’s contract - and another instalment thought to be due imminently - United must decide whether or not to hold out for the full £35m of his release clause or settle for a lower figure. There have been indications they could accept a return on their investment; something which suggests claims about the nature of the deal struck with Berge’s former employers are likely to be correct. Crucially, with Heckingbottom acknowledging the majority of his business is likely to revolve around loans and frees, compromising could free-up extra cash.
On Berge’s part, he will want to be convinced by the calibre of players Leeds plan to recruit in order to avoid finding himself in the same position he is in now 12 months down the track.