When images emerged online of Chris Wilder's hotel meeting with Genk midfielder Sander Berge, Sheffield United fans just couldn't believe their luck.
Midway through an unthinkable return to the Premier League, the Blades were poised to add a talent tracked by some of Europe's elite. A player who, despite being Norweigian and plying his trade in the Belgian top-flight, had gained a lot of traction following impressive displays in the Champions League.
United have once again smashed the club's transfer record to secure the services of a highly-rated Norwegian international midfielder on a long-term contract.— Sheffield United (@SheffieldUnited) January 30, 2020
Sander Berge has penned a four-and-a-half-year deal at Bramall Lane. An undisclosed fee has been agreed ✍️
And barely 24 hours after those images were leaked, Berge was a Blade; joining the club on a four-and-a-half-year deal in a club-record deal worth £22m. For one of Europe's most sought after defensive midfielders, that was some coup.
Initially, it seemed like Berge was destined for cult hero status; he was serenaded by the travelling Blades faithful with Billy Sharp's ingenious 'He's Norwegian...' chant to the tune of Oasis' 'She's Electric' following his impressive debut at Crystal Palace, while videos posted on the club's official YouTube channel of Sharp teaching the 21-year-old some local dialect saw him swiftly emerge as a loveable figure.
But ever since that debut at Selhurst Park just two days after his switch, Berge has drifted somewhat into obscurity - with his cult hero status slowly starting to fade following a string of underwhelming performances either side of the three-month hiatus.
Berge was especially poor in the 3-0 defeat at Newcastle while being on the receiving end of a Paul Pogba nutmeg was his only major contribution in the recent defeat at Old Trafford.
However, fortunately for the Blades fans who rightly expected so much, Berge's issues are clear and easily fixable: he's not playing in the right position.
Despite his obvious talent, Oliver Norwood's fine form at the base of midfield meant Chris Wilder was reluctant to deploy Berge in his favoured defensive midfield role in place of the Northern Irishman.
Thus, in his seven Premier League appearances so far, the Norwegian has been used as a number eight, rotating his minutes with FPL God John Lundstram.
But as previously mentioned, the results have been underwhelming.
Berge's lack of agility and balance has seen him struggle in a more advanced midfield role, while he's contributed little to nothing in attack. He's registered just one shot in 386 minutes of Premier League action, has an xG of zero, an xA (expected assists) of zero, boasts a poor pass completion rate of 75.9% and averages a mere 2.09 progressive passes per 90 minutes.
Berge's shot-creating actions per 90, meanwhile, currently stands at 0.7.
Compare that to the dynamic John Fleck - who's so effective at penetrating defensive lines with perfectly times third man runs - and Lundstram - who so often causes problems with his surges into the penalty area to expose the 'weaker side' of a backline. Their skill sets are ideal to serve the function of the number eight in Wilder's system, while Berge's profile is a million miles away.
Not only are the Blades less efficient in attack with Berge in the side - they average 0.71 goals a game with him and 1.04 without - but the role he's currently being utilised in is minimising his defensive output.
To see the supreme anticipation, astute positioning, aggressive hassling, press-resistance and composure which Berge possesses, he simply has to be used in the current Norwood role. While he doesn't come with the impressive set-piece delivery and cute switches of play that the Northern Irishman provides, he adds just a little more physicality, dynamism and greater protection in defensive transition with his capacity to sense danger.
Perhaps it's Berge's limitations in one-on-one situations and Norwood's ability to serve as the metronome in this Sheffield United side which have put Wilder off immediately utilising Berge in the single pivot, but there's no doubting that's where he'll get the best out of him.
While he may be the long-term successor to Norwood, the superb Blades boss shouldn't hesitate in granting Berge the opportunity to thrive in a more familiar position for the remainder of the campaign.
The Blades still have seven Premier League games left in a short time frame amid their fading European dream. Instead of continuously forcing him to look like a fish out of water as a number eight, this is the opportune time for Berge to rotate minutes with Norwood at the base of midfield.
Let's not get it twisted; a poor run of form in an unfamiliar environment, position and circumstances has not morphed Berge into a bad footballer. The Norwegian has the profile to be a major hit in the English game and it's only a matter of time - and a position switch - until we see the very best out of him.
Stay patient, Blades.
Source : 90min