Aston Villa are ready to sign Sander Berge this summer if Sheffield United are relegated.
Manager Chris Wilder has admitted Berge could leave Bramall Lane if the right offer comes in. Wilder says that the Blades are a “stepping stone” for the midfielder in his career.
Chances are United will be playing Championship football next season. Ahead of hosting Liverpool on Sunday, they are bottom of the Premier League table and 14 points from safety.
It’s quite the turnaround from last campaign – the club’s first in the top flight in 12 years.
The South Yorkshire side finished ninth, securing their highest league position since 1992 in the process.
Villa, meanwhile, who were promoted alongside the Blades, only avoided relegation on the final day.
Yet this term it is Dean Smith’s team who are flying high. They are currently eighth in the table with games in hand on those above them.
There has effectively been a role reversal – but why?
Why Aston Villa targeting Berge shows their approach
Like most things in modern football, it basically comes down to money.
United performed brilliantly in 2019/20 and surprised many, mostly with a team that had got them promoted.
New signings like Oli McBurnie and Lys Mousset came in and played their part, but essentially it was the same side which had finished second in the Championship 12 months prior.
However, to stand still is to move backwards. Wilder realised that and identified players that would move the club forwards.
On that shortlist was Matty Cash and Ollie Watkins. Both players moved to Villa Park instead.
A club record £33m was paid for Watkins; but what really priced the Blades out of the deal was the striker’s £70,000-a-week wages.
Wilder later admitted United are “just not in that market”.
It was a similar story with Cash, who joined the Villans in a deal worth £16m. United also missed out on Antonee Robinson, who moved to newly promoted Fulham instead when they offered the left-back £50,000-a-week.
Blades hamstrung by lack of investment
For Wilder to say the club are not in the same market as a team who finished eight places below them the previous season tells a sorry story.
Villa understood that to progress they needed to invest. United did not do the same.
They did make signings, of course, breaking their transfer record last summer to bring in Rhian Brewster.
But despite the price, Brewster remains a young talent who is still very much developing.
In truth, since getting promoted in 2019 the only player who’s come in and genuinely improved the starting XI is Berge.
His £22m arrival from Genk in January 2020 signalled a different approach from the club. At least, that’s what we thought.
However, since then chances have been taken on youngsters instead. Jayden Bogle has done well, but none have truly elevated the first team.
Berge is the only one and if Villa do sign the Norway international, it will simply demonstrate how they committed to improving their squad. And the Blades did not.