Sheffield United's Sander Berge discusses his future after returning 'back where he should be'

Ever since he arrived in England, as Sheffield United’s record signing and with the Blades riding the crest of a wave in the Premier League, Sander Berge has not had things his own way.

Wednesday, 23rd March 2022, 12:01 pm

Within six weeks or so, the coronavirus lockdown was imposed and Berge was suddenly isolated in a foreign country, forced to communicate with friends and family via Skype from his Sheffield apartment.

Then came the injury; a serious hamstring issue that required surgery to reattach the muscle. United, hampered severely by playing in front of empty stadiums, were then relegated with a whimper and after contracting Covid-19 himself, Berge played 30 minutes of football in three months earlier this season.

Fortunately, for both player and club, things appear to be looking up. United have recovered from their early-season malaise to force their way into the play-off places, with Berge being reinvented as a goalscoring midfielder.

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His last four games have brought three goals, and a harshly-disallowed goal at Blackpool. He is also back in the Norway squad, for the first time under their boss Ståle Solbakken.

United fans and staff alike will pray that Berge reports back to Shirecliffe with no adverse complications from games against Slovakia and Armenia. But their No.8 is just glad to be involved again.

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“It was tough,” Berge remembers of the early days at United.

Sander Berge of Sheffield United - Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“I felt I had a lot of momentum. I had a year in the Premier League, learned to get to know the league, found my role and embraced our identity as a team.

“Getting an injury break then, and having to spend several months finding myself again, was tough.

“It's a bit unlucky. I came to England as a young man, it was a completely different pace. I played a lot, then came Covid. Everything shut down and I trained myself for 100 days. You do not get treatment, no matching or rhythm, just a constant training camp that I ran for myself.

“Then the body probably broke down a bit. I was unlucky with the way the injury happened. It was worse than I expected and hoped. Then it was a struggle to get back.”

Last season was a disappointing one for both Sander Berge and Sheffield United: Simon Bellis/ Sportimage

Covid-19 hit Berge hard, with the 24-year-old revealing in an interview with TV2 that he struggled to climb stairs after contracting the respiratory virus and felt “half dead”.

Berge was managed carefully in his recovery and has recently shown signs of the ability that persuaded United to spend £22m to acquire his services. Despite talk of a summer move, he remained at Bramall Lane and played in the Championship.

“When I went to England, I wanted to play in the Premier League,” Berge added.

Sander Berge scored his third goal in four games in Sheffield United's win over Barnsley at the weekend: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

“That was the level I wanted to play at and take Sheffield United to new heights. We did not manage that as a team and club.

“Then I started thinking about the future and where it leads. At the time, I thought that Championship might not be something I associated with myself and many around me.

“It may not have been a problem for myself as an individual to play in the Championship, because I was only 22-23 years old, but around me there were expectations that it is a league where I should not play. It affects you.

“But I have not become a worse player by playing in the Championship. It is a very tough league; many people talk about it as the toughest in the world, and you understand that when you have played there.

“Not the toughest as in that it is the best, but it is very hard to play every three days. Everyone is fighting for points and it is tight and even. It makes you better, even if the matches do not look like the most elegant.”

Berge’s future will remain a constant target for speculation, especially if United do not win promotion back to the Premier League this season and are consigned to another season in the second tier.

With United already effectively mortgaging their parachute payments, there will be a fresh need to balance the books and their most saleable assets – of which Berge is undoubtedly one – will again be linked with moves away.

United expected Berge to move in the summer, after his release clause dropped to £35m following United’s relegation to the Championship. But a few derisory offers apart, no serious interest emerged and Berge remained at Bramall Lane.

Hopes that he could inspire a promotion push – and subsequently increase his sell-on value – looked forlorn when United were languishing in the wrong half of the table, and their former record signing was sidelined.

But the tables have turned. With eight games of the Championship season left, United are fifth in the table and have their promotion destiny in their own hands.

“In time, anything is possible,” Berge said on his future.

“It's just a matter of playing and staying healthy now, then many doors open. We'll just see when that time comes.

“The most important thing is just to work hard here, be part of the national team and raise the level.

Football has always meant everything, but the older you get, the more it turns out that there is much more that needs to be arranged.

“You need to be mentally stable and ready to relax. In the past, I used to watch four or five games on the weekends and spent all my time in the world on football, soccer, football. It takes over a little.

“Now I'm better at seeing the big picture, able to do more than just football. When I get on the field then, I have more energy and guts.

“I'm back in full swing. I feel fit to fight and am back where I should be.”