Sheffield United's Paul Heckingbottom makes an admission about Sander Berge's future at Bramall Lane
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Despite acknowledging the temporary nature of his own position means he is powerless to influence the midfielder’s future, Heckingbottom reminded Bramall Lane’s hierarchy are not obliged to sell Berge even though the 23-year-old is unlikely to welcome the prospect of Championship football.
The second most expensive signing in United’s history, Berge had been linked with a move away from South Yorkshire long before their relegation from the top-flight was mathematically confirmed last weekend.
As The Star first revealed, both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have been encouraged to submit bids for his services, with United understood to value him significantly higher than the £22m they paid Genk 15 months ago.
Heckingbottom, however, said: “Sander hasn’t spoken about the future. If he is here, that will be out of my hands.
“But I’m expecting him (to remain with United), yes. He’s contracted to us, don’t forget that, and what a player he would be to help us get back.”
Having prepared for tonight’s game against Brighton and Hove Albion 19 points adrift of safety with only six matches remaining, United are already drafting plans for their return to the English Football League following two seasons in the top-flight.
Capped 24 times by his country, Berge has been absent since December after suffering a serious hamstring injury during United’s home defeat by Manchester United - a result they later avenged by winning at Old Trafford.
“The only thing Sander is bothered about at the moment is getting fit, that’s what’s driving him on,” Heckingbottom said, confirming Berge is closing in on a return to fitness. “He’s had a good 10 days or so (of training) now and is getting better and better. It’s just a case of building him up.”
Placed in temporary charge when Chris Wilder, who twice led United to promotion, left his position five weeks ago, Heckingbottom suggested Berge is unlikely to face Albion but could return to action at Spurs next month.
Intriguingly, given the political machinations of modern football, Heckingbottom did feel compelled to issue a caveat about his position on Berge’s continued involvement with United.
“It might not be up to us, what happens, and it might not even be up to him,” Heckingbottom noted. “What I do know, having worked with him, is that he’s a really top player and a very driven one too. Don’t be confused by his nice smile and personality. He wants to be the very best player he can be.”
Jack Robinson, another long-term absentee, is also closing in on a return to action although too late to prevent United from surrendering their seat at English football’s most prestigious tabel.
“He’s just a little bit behind Sander with regards to where he’s at.” Heckingbottom said. “But he’s coming on well too, and getting there. It’s just a case of building him up and getting those minutes now.”