Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder draws the battle lines over policy ahead of an important summer at Bramall Lane

Chris Wilder has warned it would be a mistake to dismantle the squad he has assembled since taking charge of Sheffield United if, as expected, the club is relegated from the Premier League.

Saturday, 20th February 2021, 6:10 am

In a move which could be interpreted as an attempt to begin drawing the battles lines ahead of a turbulent summer at Bramall Lane, the United manager alluded it would be a betrayal of the recruitment policy responsible for delivering two promotions since his appointment in 2016 if influential performers such as Sander Berge, Jack O’Connell and John Egan are sold en masse following a return to the Championship.

Wilder, whose side enter tonight’s match at Fulham 14 points adrift of safety with only 14 matches of the season remaining, noted how Norwich City, Watford and AFC Bournemouth are all pushing for an immediate return to the top-flight after going down last term having taken a conscious decision to retain most of their star players.

“They might sell the odd one, because they might have had to do that from a financial point of view,” he told The Star, explaining United’s recent signings had been made with a similar situation in mind. “But the majority of those players are there. Maybe you are always going to lose three or four so the numbers have to be right to add to those numbers.

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“As far as I know, we are still in the Premier League. This is the reason why we didn’t go down the route of international players. Because I saw what happened at Stoke, Swansea and Sunderland in the past when they dropped. Internationals didn’t want to take a 50 percent (pay) cut and they didn’t want to be in the Championship, because they know what it’s about. Look at what happened to them.”

Despite finishing ninth in the table last term - something he attributes to a “perfect storm” of momentum, crowd backing and an empty treatment room - Wilder warned at the beginning of the campaign that survival remained United’s number one target. With that in mind, and privately accepting a lack of financial muscle and experience meant they could soon find themselves back in the second tier - Wilder based his signings on proven Championship performers with the potential to develop into top-flight talents. Even record signing Rhian Brewster fell into this category, scoring 11 times in 22 appearances during a spell on loan with Swansea City last season before returning to Liverpool - where he made only four senior appearances before completing a £23.5m move to South Yorkshire.

Following an interview with Norwegian television this week, reports emerged that Wilder accepts Berge, previously of Genk, will depart if United’s fate is confirmed.

“The model, for me, is that if someone comes in with a huge fee and I can’t stop a boy going to a top club, then we have to look at it,” he said. “That’s not me saying I want to sell him (Berge). For me, it would be pointless selling these lads because, if we do go back up, then we’ll have to replace them anyway. I’m not sure any of their valuations will have gone through the roof so, to get their value back up, they’d need a push (for promotion).”

Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, and his assistant Alan Knill (R): Simon Bellis/Sportimage

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Rhian Brewster excelled in the Championship during a spell on loan at Swansea City last season: Andrew Yates/Sportimage
Sander Berge spoke of his desire to play Champions League football before being injured and will miss the trip to Craven Cottage: Darren Staples/Sportimage
Chris Wilder takes his Sheffield United team to Fulham today: Simon Bellis/Sportimage