Oliver Burke says he’s now better prepared for Scotland duty

Oliver Burke is in line to lead Scotland's attack in Astana. Picture: SNS
Oliver Burke is in line to lead Scotland's attack in Astana. Picture: SNS
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Oliver Burke is on course to lead the line for Scotland in Thursday’s opening Euro 2020 qualifying tie against Kazakhstan in Astana, two years after the last of his five appearances for the national team.

He was thrust into the senior side at the age of 18 by then manager Gordon Strachan but accepts now that it was a case of too much too soon as he struggled to cope with the pressure of being the most expensive footballer from this country.

A £13 million move from Nottingham Forest to RB Leipzig in 2016 was followed by a £15m switch to West Bromwich Albion the following year. He failed to establish himself as a regular starter for either club and it is only now, having rehabilitated his career while on loan to Celtic, that the 21-year-old feels properly prepared for national service.

Yet he believes that those 
early difficulties have played their part in shaping his personality and that he will benefit from those experiences as he chases his first international goal.

“I don’t know; I mean, I don’t regret anything that’s happened, including being called up back then,” he said.

“But the expectations and the weight that was placed on my shoulders at the time… it was a lot but that’s just part of football. When you go to clubs for big money then these expectations come along with it.

“Obviously, I’d have liked to have done better and had a more successful start to my international career but it was all completely new to me and everything seemed to be happening all at once; one minute being at Forest and the next at Leipzig and then being on the international stage.

“It all happened so quickly, in a matter of months. However, I’m back in the fold now after almost two years away from it and I’m very happy.

“I’m prouder of this call-up than the previous ones, although it’s amazing whenever you’re selected – a real privilege.

“But especially having been out of it for so long and dropping down to the Under-21 squad – and us doing so well at the Toulon tournament – I’m just delighted to be back in. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Many players would have taken the demotion to the lower ranks as a slight but Burke embraced it.

“For me, it was no problem at all; a no-brainer,” he said. “I remember getting the call regarding Toulon when I was in Germany. I thought that was a real boost for me, going with the 21s to a really important tournament. The coaches there helped to give me confidence and belief in myself again.

“Scot Gemmill and Malky [Mackay] let me go out there, enjoy my football again and do what I do without thinking about everything else.

“I did that and it was successful. As a player, you need that at times, someone to tell you that you can do it and to give you that confidence to go and express yourself.”

Originally a winger, Burke played as a central striker in France and was deployed there by Brendan Rodgers on his arrival at Parkhead in 
January. Neil Lennon has subsequently persevered with him in that role, one he feels he has finally adapted to.

“You have to stick with it and be a part of the team,” he said. “As a striker, it starts from you and everyone else follows so it’s a position of responsibility for that reason.

“I was drifting a little bit at times and going wide, and forgetting I was a striker. It all comes down to learning the position and maturing. You have to realise there are great players in other positions and to let them do it.

“There’s no need for me to drift; I have to stay in my position. I wanted to go back to my old ways, but it’s important to learn.”

Burke also backed Celtic goalkeeper Scott Bain to make the Scotland shirt his own.

“He’s been tremendous since he came in, making some unbelievable saves,” he said. Personally, I think he’s great and I really do think he’ll be able to do the job, no doubt about it. If he can do it for Celtic then why not with the national team? Nothing fazes him – it’s important for a keeper to be ice cold. I wish him all the best and hope it works out for him.”