Sheffield United: Sander Berge and the story of transfer deadline day at Bramall Lane

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
It was the final time he would face the media before tonight’s transfer deadline and Paul Heckingbottom was sticking religiously to his script.
Read More
Sheffield United: Boss reveals he would like to sign one more player before the ...

The one he had prepared at the beginning of the window. Not the dialogue Sheffield United’s board of directors, or at least some high-ranking members of it, scribbled out when it opened earlier this summer.

“You’ve got to ask, haven’t you,” Heckingbottom reminded reporters, after watching his team fillet Reading at Bramall Lane. United appeared in mighty fine shape as they plundered four unanswered goals. But with John Fleck and Ben Osborn both missing the game through injury, their manager had requested permission to reinforce his midfield. Even though he suspected - correctly as it transpired - that his wish would not be granted.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Paul Heckingbottom was desperate to keep Sander Berge at Sheffield United beyond the transfer deadline: Andrew Yates / SportimagePaul Heckingbottom was desperate to keep Sander Berge at Sheffield United beyond the transfer deadline: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Paul Heckingbottom was desperate to keep Sander Berge at Sheffield United beyond the transfer deadline: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

Ultimately, although Heckingbottom can be forgiven for trying to push the boundaries, there is only one question really worth considering at this stage of the season: Are United in better shape now the market has closed than when it opened three months ago? The answer, despite legitimate concerns about their reliance on temporary rather than permanent signings, is undoubtedly ‘yes’.

Anel Ahmedhodzic, the only player United have paid a fee to acquire since being relegated from the Premier League, appears worth far more than the £3m it cost to prise him away from Malmo. Reda Khadra, Tommy Doyle, Ciaran Clark and James McAtee have expanded the skill set and the options at Heckingbottom’s disposal. The same, when he recovers from a medial ligament issue, goes for goalkeeper Adam Davies.

Even more importantly, however, United will travel to Hull City this weekend with Sander Berge, Iliman Ndiaye and Max Lowe in tow. All three, Berge in particular, have been linked with moves away from South Yorkshire since May’s defeat by Nottingham Forest in May’s Championship play-off semi-finals. But, much to the relief of Heckingbottom and supporters alike given that United are preparing for Sunday’s assignment against Shota Arveladze’s side on top of the table, they will remain part of the squad until January at least when the market is scheduled to reopen.

Sheffield United midfielder Sander Berge was a man in demand on transfer deadline daySheffield United midfielder Sander Berge was a man in demand on transfer deadline day
Sheffield United midfielder Sander Berge was a man in demand on transfer deadline day

Despite clearly working under some pretty severe financial restraints, given that United have spent two of the previous four campaigns competing in the top-flight, Heckingbottom has constructed a formidable-looking team.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But arguably the most fascinating development over the past 12 weeks or so has been the personal growth of the 44-year-old, witnessing him cement his reputation as someone ready to fight for what he thinks is right rather than meekly surrender to the whims of his employers.

When he was unveiled as Slavisa Jokanovic’s successor in November - the Serb, like two time promotion winner Chris Wilder, endured a difficult relationship with United’s hierarchy - Heckingbottom was viewed by many observers as a puppet; someone so happy to be offered the job he could be easily manipulated by the ownership.

The fact no club in the second tier has collected more points since his appointment had already done much to change the way United’s former under-23’s coach is perceived. But his handling of the Berge situation, diplomatically but forcefully distancing himself from plans to investigate the possibility of selling the Norway international to Club Brugge, confirmed Heckingbottom is ready to stand his ground.

The Belgians were the only serious bidders for Berge, even when it became apparent United were prepared to ignore the £35m release fee contained within his contract. Although that claim will no doubt shortly be disputed, the fact some rival news outlets spent the past 24 hours reporting that “conversations” with officials at the Jan Breydel Stadium remained on-going yesterday suggests otherwise. Likewise their interest in Montreal’s Ismael Kone.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

If United, who paid Genk £22m for Berge 32 months ago, really were determined to stick to their guns then their chat with Carl Hoefkens and his president Bart Verhaeghe should have been the shortest in footballing history. It must be noted, however, that the market in Belgium does not close its doors until September 6th.

By describing Berge as “irreplaceable” and a “Rolls Royce” of a performer, Heckingbottom subtly let it be known he would be extremely disappointed if a compromise was brokered. The same goes for his decision to publicly acknowledge before the meeting with Paul Ince’s side that he wants Ndiaye, now part of Senegal’s thinking ahead of this winter’s World Cup in Qatar, to be awarded a new contract.

“It’s my job, as I see it anyway, to protect the team, to protect the group,” Heckingbottom stressed recently. “I appreciate and understand it’s a business. That it’s not my money. But it’s how I see my role.”

United, perhaps because the figures being discussed were far lower and his salary is less taxing too, proved more intransigent over Lowe when first Nottingham Forest - where he spent the previous campaign on loan - and then Olympiakos enquired about the defender’s availability. Thankfully so, given how he has grown in stature of late.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Still, the fact that Heckingbottom’s biggest problem now seems to be fathoming how to shoehorn as many of United’s new recruits into his matchday squads as possible confirms it has been a successful summer.

Credit must go to talent gurus Paul Mitchell and Jared Dublin for spotting Ahmedhodzic’s potential. Not to mention to fact the centre-half, who has now claimed three goals and one assist in only six senior outings, is effectively three players in one after also proving himself to be a frustrated wing-back and centre-forward.

Doyle showcased his technique and tactical acumen during the meeting with Reading while Khadra’s directness brings something different to United’s attack.

Clark’s experience, once he recovers from a fitness issue, will be invaluable. The same goes for McAtee’s intelligence, once the youngster acclimatises to the demands of senior competition.