Sheffield United: Sander Berge will keep on getting better, predicts Slavisa Jokanovic, after delivering his verdict on the midfielder's conduct behind the scenes
Sander Berge refused to allow the uncertainty surrounding his future at Sheffield United earlier this summer to become a distraction, manager Slavisa Jokanovic has told The Star, after predicting the midfielder’s versatility means he can bring “many positive things” to the club providing he remains in South Yorkshire.
After testing positive for Covid-19 during the international break, Berge is expected to feature against Hull City at this weekend having scored on his return to action when Preston North End visited Bramall Lane on Tuesday.
The Norwegian’s successful recovery from the virus has come at an opportune moment, with youngster Iliman Ndiaye showing signs of fatigue during the 2-2 draw with Frankie McAvoy’s side having scored twice on his Championship debut last weekend.
Although Jokanovic refused to provide any clues about his potential selections for the game, there are suspicions Berge could step in at the MKM Stadium in order to provide the young Frenchman with a rest ahead of Tuesday’s Carabao Cup tie against Southampton.
With Napoli and Arsenal both expressing an interest in recruiting Berge after United’s relegation last term - and the player himself outlining ambitions to compete in Europe - Jokanovic expected to start the campaign without the £22m signing from Genk. However with neither club willing to meet the board’s asking price, a move away failed to materialise.
“I didn’t have the sensation, at any time, that Sander wasn’t focused,” Jokanovic said. “When he started working with us, he was always producing good quality and showing a good personality and attitude.
“Against Preston, I used him in a slightly unusual position for him. It is not one that he is used to but he did very well, as people can see. He made the right impact.
“So I am happy to be working with him and he has helped us, undoubtedly. He has brought many positive things and he can continue to do that.”
Despite making promising start to life with United after leaving the Belgians 20 months ago, Berge has since struggled to justify the transfer fee Jokanovic’s employers negotiated with their counterparts at the Luminus Arena having convinced Chris Wilder, the Serb’s predecessor, of his worth.
Although injury, illness and United’s miserable form before surrendering their top-flight status are mitigating factors, Berge has also been criticised for failing to embrace the combative nature of the English game.
“When he played for us against Birmingham on the opening weekend,” said Jokanovic, dismissing concerns about his physicality, “I was told that was the first 90 minutes he has played since January.
“To get to their optimal level, quality players like him, any players for that matter, they need time.”
“I can only start with 11 players,” Jokanovic added. “I brought Sander on against Preston because we needed more passes in midfield ourselves and he brought that, as well as other things.
“I know he can be an important player for us moving forward and, as I have explained previously, we need options because it is impossible - or almost impossible - for players to play every game in this division.”