Chris Wilder's Sander Berge comments highlight painful reality for clubs like Sheffield United - and everyone outside the elite

Chris Wilder's recent comments about Sander Berge to a Norwegian television station have highlighted how clubs outside the elite have to sometimes accept being used as “springboards” in the careers of ambitious young footballers.

SPRINGBOARD: Sander Berge seems sure to move on if Sheffield United are relegated
SPRINGBOARD: Sander Berge seems sure to move on if Sheffield United are relegated

The Sheffield United squad which pushed so hard for European qualification last season still had plenty of recognisable elements from when Wilder managed them in League One, but since winning promotion to the Premier League in 2019, they have tried to add more quality.

The club's record transfer fee has been broken six times since, including the £22m paid to Genk for midfielder Berge in January 2020.

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other factors have certainly been in play too, but this season's recruitment has not paid off, with the new holder of that title – £24m striker Rhian Brewster – failing to find the net as the club's battle against relegation looks increasingly forlorn.

Berge can largely be excused criticism, having been one of the club's better performers until a tendon injury in December. He has not played since.

In the event of relegation it would be nice to think the squad could be kept together for a push at promotion, but the reality is players like Berge joined the club to play Premier League football, and are sure to have offers to do so again next season. Other top leagues could show an interest too.

At least Wilder went into the transfer with his eyes wide open.

"I think this has always been a springboard for Sander,” he admitted.

"He wants to play at the highest level, he wants to play Champions League regularly (having done so briefly at Genk) and he wants to play for a top team.

“We gave him an opportunity to show off his skills and he has taken it. If he plays well, he makes us a better team, but I know that day will come.

“I know Sander won’t be here until he’s 32, but we enjoy working with him and hopefully he has a few games left as a Sheffield United player.”

If the 23-year-old moves on in the summer, there will be no bitterness from the manager who brought him to England.

"I understand, if he goes and if it happens, then it happens with our blessing,” said Wilder.

“I wish Sander all the best. Do I think he can play for a top club? Absolutely, but for that to happen, he has to keep doing well here.”

The reality is that such is the financial – much more so than footballing – gulf between the Premier League and Championship that the vultures will already be eyeing up the pick of the Sheffield United squad in the seemingly inevitable event of relegation. Staying will mean a big pay cut.

Centre-back John Egan could well be another in demand and the Blades' best hope is that reservations about the effects of Jack O'Connell's long-term knee injury stop him going too. In truth, though, they will need a big-money sale or too anyway to soften the fall.

It is sad, because Berge genuinely seems to have formed an attachment with his new club, born the moment the away end serenaded him on his debut at Crystal Palace.

No one would have been naïve enough to think a young Norwegian moved to South Yorkshire simply to fulfil a lifelong dream to wear the same shirt as Mitch Ward and John Gannon.

Business is business, and it should only make is more grateful for those whose commitment to the cause survives relegation.

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