Championship transfer targets: Berge, Scott, Bellingham
The English Championship season is almost over, with Burnley and Sheffield United sealing the two automatic promotion spots to the Premier League, while Luton Town and Coventry City are set to battle for the last place in the playoff final on Saturday (stream live on ESPN+, 11.45 a.m. ET.)
Plenty of young players have impressed in English football’s second tier and some have already agreed big transfers ahead of the summer. Watford forward Joao Pedro is set to join Brighton & Hove Albion for around £28 million this summer, while Blackburn Rovers midfielder Ben Brereton Diaz has reportedly agreed a pre-contract to sign for Villarreal on a free transfer.
Meanwhile, some players who have done well on loan will head back to their parent clubs, with hopes of sealing a place in the first team. Among those are: Amad Diallo (Sunderland, back to Manchester United), James McAtee (Sheffield United, back to Manchester City), Taylor Harwood-Bellis (Burnley, back to Man City), Nathan Tella (Burnley, back to Southampton) and Cameron Archer (Middlesbrough, back to Aston Villa.)
So which of the Championship’s top stars could be next to move? Who should clubs have on their radar when the transfer window opens again?
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Iliman Ndiaye, 23, AM/FW, Sheffield United
Amid interest from Everton in January, Sheffield United did well to hang on to Ndiaye. It remains to be seen, however, if the Senegal international — whose contract expires in 2024 — remains a Blade when the Premier League season commences.
With 14 goals and 11 assists from 46 league games, Ndiaye was deemed “irreplaceable” by his manager, Paul Heckingbottom. He is the very definition of a “livewire” as his rapid dribbling skills, neat footwork and low centre of gravity make him hard to anticipate and dispossess. The sheer persistence of his running is impressive, while he always comes up with instinctive solutions to whatever faces him. And the way he makes the quick transition from attacking mode to intensive ball recovery is highly commendable too.
Sander Berge, 25, CM, Sheffield United
Another Sheffield United star to have shone this season, Berge has been repeatedly linked with big clubs domestically and overseas. And it’s only the recurring injuries that the Norway international has faced over recent seasons which has seen him stay at Bramall Lane. But, though he did miss nine games this season with ankle ligament damage, he’s been injury-free in 2023, so is starting to attract more transfer interest.
A €23m signing from Genk in 2020, Berge is an atypical figure for a No. 6/No. 8 hybrid midfielder, courtesy of his 6-foot-5 stature. Not only a physical force who takes care of interceptions (3 per 90 minutes) and aerial duels, he’s also technically gifted and deceptively smooth with the ball as he breaks opposing lines with his surging runs (2.8 dribbles per 90 minutes) from deep midfield positions. With a contract that expires in 2024, Berge has been linked with the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea.
Max Aarons, 23, RB, Norwich City
The lack of quality right-backs available internationally might see top clubs take special interest in the England under-21 defender this summer, with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Man United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur all previously linked.
Aarons recently recorded his 200th league appearance for Norwich and, by Norwich sporting director Stuart Webber’s own admission, has “outgrown the club.” With just a season left of his contract, the Canaries are expected to evaluate offers rather than run the risk of losing their consistent, energetic right-back for nothing next summer.
A brilliant ball carrier, who hardly misses a game, Aarons times his forward runs perfectly and positions himself well to swing in crosses. His quick feet and mental alertness also render him efficient in anticipating duels and picking up loose balls in midfield.
Norwich chief Webber also claimed that Omobamidele could be allowed to leave, despite having a contract until 2026. While Norwich fended off a £20m+ offer from a foreign club to sign the Republic of Ireland centre-back in January, the chances are that transfer interest in him will be reignited over the coming months.
Omobamidele has stood out for his composed, mature style of defending during what is only his first full season in senior football. His purposeful distribution from the back often sees him entrusted with 70+ touches during the course of a game — against West Brom last year he recorded an incredible 103 passes — while he also possesses the pace, game-reading and mobility to efficiently deal with danger.
Many predicted the club’s record signing (€30m from Rennes in 2019) would have moved on to bigger things by now, especially on the back of two respectable Premier League seasons. But with one more season remaining on his contract, Watford’s prospects of recouping anything near that substantial transfer fee may be hindered as his development has slowed somewhat.
Still, signing the Senegal international remains an attractive proposition for top clubs across Europe and he has seen links with Liverpool and Man United in the past. Mainly deployed as a right winger — though equally capable of featuring on the opposite side of the attack or even as a central striker — Sarr’s direct, penetrative running, fine dribbling and ability to play combinations with teammates at high speed, mark him out as a difference-maker.
Alex Scott, 19, CM, Bristol City
Labelled an “unbelievable player” by Man City coach Pep Guardiola after their 3-0 FA Cup win over Bristol City in early March, Scott has also reportedly caught the eye of Liverpool, West Ham and Wolves, and won the Championship Young Player of the Season award.
Tactically flexible, he can dictate play from a deep pivot role, or as a roaming No. 8/No. 10 as he did against City. With the physical, mental and technical qualities to go far in the game, the 19-year-old is likely to be the subject of plenty of interest once he returns from representing England at the U20 World Cup this month.
Scott’s strengths are neat, well-angled passes, delicate touches, deceptive turns and high-tempo ball-progression (4.1 dribbles per 90 minutes.) He also has an impressive work ethic and shows no fear in making his presence felt to recover the ball (18 challenges per 90 minutes with a 50% success rate.)
Dan Neil, 21, CM, Sunderland
Following his first-team league debut two years ago, the local boy has proven himself indispensable to Sunderland this season. An energetic box-to-box midfielder, with the stamina to cover vast areas, Neil is always on the move and distributes the ball efficiently.
He creates space with his smart off-the-ball movement, makes strong tackles and displays high-level tactical awareness for a 21-year-old. And, despite his willingness to get into the box, his discipline and mobility ensure that he’s quick to settle back into the defensive shape.
The fact that Neil was Sunderland’s second most-utilised outfield player speaks volumes about his consistency.
Whether Jobe will follow in the footsteps of his illustrious brother Jude as a world-class midfielder is still too early to determine. What is clear, however, is that the England U17 international does share some of Jude’s precocious nature.
The 17-year-old featured in just under half of Birmingham City’s league fixtures this season, while the final two games saw him complete his first 90 minutes. Though still developing physically, the attacking midfielder — who tends to play higher up the pitch than his brother, either as a winger or behind the striker — has shown the mental and technical abilities to build an impressive career.
While a move to the Premier League, or to join his brother at Borussia Dortmund, is too soon, a £3m transfer to Sunderland is reportedly close.