Scotland manager Gordon Strachan has warned the Tartan Army not to expect the world from Oliver Burke too quickly.
The 19 -year-old, who became Scotland’s most expensive ever player last month when he moved from Nottingham Forest to RB Leipzig for £13 million, made his competitive international debut in Sunday’s 5-1 World Cup qualifying victory over Malta.
The win puts Scotland top of Group F before next month’s double-header against Lithuania and Slovakia. Hopes are high Burke could be the X factor Strachan believes is the difference between reaching major finals and falling just short.
Strachan called for patience from the Tartan Army, who are understandably desperate to anoint Burke as the world-class player they have been waiting for.
He was employed behind lone striker Chris Martin at the Ta’Qali stadium before switching to his favoured position of winger in the second-half. He was replaced after 65 minutes, by which time Scotland had endured a difficult spell to go 3-1 ahead against their hosts, who finished with nine men.
Burke was lively from the very first minute when he won a corner after a positive drive into the box. But his performance also showed what he is – a raw talent with much still to learn.
Strachan himself has repeatedly voiced his frustration that Scotland have for so long been unable to call on someone with the ability to change a game on his own.
But he stressed Burke still has much to learn. He has cautioned the player against trying too hard – the natural instinct of someone surrounded by such hype.
“With top players, they only need to do three or four great things in a game,” said Strachan. “Only three or four. Sometimes when you are younger you feel there is pressure on you to do something every time you touch the ball. And it’s not just Burkey, loads of people have done that.”
“I am sure like any young man when they get in the Scotland team, he just wants to help you win the game,” he added. Strachan wants fans to relax and enjoy watching the development of a player who does not turn 20 until April. He contrasted Burke’s situation with his own when he was a 19 year-old at Dundee, in the old First Division.
“Listen, I wasn’t even getting a game in the first team at that point,” he said. “Well, I was captain of Dundee but they soon found [me] out and moved me on! But if I knew what I knew at 35 then the world’s a different place. But we are all like that. There are not many greats at 19 who know everything.”
Strachan is impressed with the way Burke handled meeting up with the Scotland squad just days after moving to Germany for such a high fee. The manager praised him for the way he has handled the inevitable media interest. “It has not been easy for him,” he said. “But he has never been up nor down. He just looks at you the same way, talks the same way. I like that about him. He looks unflustered.”
Strachan questioned his own use of Burke on Sunday, with the player initially to play in front of Malta’s three centre-halves. He switched to a more orthodox winger’s role later on.
The manager applauded Burke’s desire to run at defenders. The teenager earned Scotland a corner in the first minute by showing the speed and footwork that caught the eye of RB Leipzig. “We could have done more of that if we looked forward,” said Strachan. “But I think at times we went into the park too much. But the old fashioned just clip it down the side and run them, that was meant to be the plan.”