Oliver Burke yesterday recalled how he fell in love, not with Celtic but with their famous hooped shirt, and how he became renowned as the only youngster in the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray to wear one.
Having just become Brendan Rodgers’ first January signing, the Kirkcaldy-born 21-year-old loanee joined up with his new team-mates at their Dubai training camp having, as yet, to set foot in Celtic Park for the first time in his life.
He will do so when Celtic return to action, facing League One side Airdrie in the Scottish Cup – a day which Burke claimed will start to see his career get back on track.
Having spent much of his childhood at Nottingham Forest after joining their academy, he had started to make a real name for himself in the first team before his shock move in 2016 to newly-promoted Bundesliga club RB Leipzig for what was then a record fee for a Scottish player of £13 million.
Burke smashed that figure when he moved on after only a year, signing for West Bromwich Albion.
Despite the Midlands side having forked out £15m and a five-year contract, Burke proceeded to fall out of favour to such an extent that he’d featured in only six matches for the Baggies this season.
He said: “I was never given an explanation as to why I wasn’t playing. Tony Pulis signed me and at the start I was out for a bit with injury. As I gradually got back, Tony had gone and a new manager [Darren Moore] came in, so it’s the luck of the draw.
“I haven’t been injured at all. It’s just one of those things which does happen in football. Unfortunately, I haven’t been selected – I don’t know why.”
Faced with options, Burke had no hesitation in snapping up the chance to play football in Scotland – he’d moved south as a toddler – for the first time at club level, a decision he described as “a no-brainer”.
“I was looking to go out on loan and get a club which could really develop me and play as many games as I can,” he said.
“I spoke to the gaffer, Brendan, and instantly he had a massive influence on my coming here. It’s a superb opportunity and being out at the training camp is a real bonus as I will get to know the team and get used to the environment at Celtic, so it was a no-brainer for me.
“As soon as I found out about Celtic’s interest I was really buzzing. I had options but the only choice in my head was Celtic. This is something I had to take on straight away. I had a chat with the manager and I had no hesitation.
“I know I can develop under him. He’s proven he can improve players. I’ll give 110 per cent and I don’t see why this move can’t further my career. It will make it better.
“It’s a pretty exciting time. I’m really happy to be here and excited to kick on now. I had my first training session today and really enjoyed it. I know a lot of the boys already which helps, they are a great bunch of lads, so it’s all good and it’s nice to see them again. I’m just delighted to be here.”
Burke maintains that changing environment yet again will hold no problems for him as all he wants to do is get out on the pitch and play and he’s happy just to have the chance to prove himself all over again.
He said: “I’m at a stage where I really need to kick on and play as many games as I can. At the same time I need to be learning and I feel I’m under the right manager now to learn every day and get the best out of me. I believe Brendan can do that.
“All I want to do is play. I love the game. I want to show everyone what I can do. Unfortunately it hasn’t gone my way for the past few years. Hopefully, I am now on a stage where I can perform. I’ll give 100 per cent for this football club as it’s a privilege to be here.”
“I’ll train hard and I’m hoping that helps with my development. All I have been waiting for is the opportunity to play and be given a chance.”
Burke admits he’s packed more into the past few years than perhaps most players do in their entire careers but, he insisted, he has no regrets at the decisions he’s taken, saying: “I think that sums up football in a way. It’s how it is. I’ve done a lot of moving, a lot of shifting around, and what I want now is to settle, enjoy this loan period and see where it gets me.
“I got a lot of attention. Everything happened so quickly. Sometimes it was hard to adapt and moving clubs can be difficult. You can start to feel comfortable and then you’re on the move again.
“I had to start from scratch, again, at another new club. But I guess I’m used to that now. Still being young is a bonus. I just want to start to enjoy my football again.
While Burke’s time in Germany was limited largely to substitute appearances, he said “I don’t regret the move. It was an amazing feeling. It was a big shock at the time just how well the team did. I was still a part of it, as such, but not as big a part as I would have liked. For the amount of money I went for, everyone expected me to play, they expected the world from me, but at times that’s not how it goes.
“The team were doing so well, playing great football, which was unexpected. However, I can’t say I regret the move. I learned a lot out there. I actually really enjoyed it. Look, football has its highs and lows.
“You have to keep going, working, and pushing yourself because there is always going to be light at the end of the tunnel. You can’t give up.
“I didn’t really think about the price tag. I didn’t know anything about it until it was out in the papers. I didn’t speak to me agent about the fee. We focussed on the best place for me to go at that stage of my career.
“To be honest, I just want to see where this loan at Celtic goes. I’ll try to play in as many games as I can, help the team in any way I can and see where it gets me.
“I haven’t seen a lot of Scottish football. The only time I’ve spent time in Scotland is when I’ve met up with the international squads.”
But if his first-hand knowledge of Scottish football may be a bit scant, Burke is looking forward to the day he pulls on that green and white shirt for real.
Revealing how he had virtually grown up wearing a Celtic shirt, he said: “I am really excited to be a Celtic player. I had the kit when I was young, the full kit as well, and this has always been the club I’ve thought about.
“I wasn’t a supporter. I just loved the kit. It was great. Someone on the Scottish side of the family got me the kit and I never took it off. I would be down the country park playing in a Celtic strip. Everyone was saying: ‘What is that?’ But I loved it. I would be kicking a ball with my friends and they did ask why I was wearing the Celtic kit. I just loved it. It’s brilliant.
“I have never been to Celtic Park. That’s what I’m really excited about. I have heard the fans are amazing so I’m dying to see that. I came to Dubai straight from Birmingham because I wanted to crack on and get to know the team.”
Burke also hopes his move to Glasgow will help cement his place in Alex McLeish’s Scotland squad as they target qualification for a major tournament for the first time in 22 years.
He was also eligible to play for England, but chose to represent the country of his birth. First called into the under-19 squad, he then received his first call-up to the senior squad in March 2016. He subsequently returned to the younger age-group levels and has twice played at the Toulon Tournament as well as captaining the under-21s.
He said: “This gives me a massive opportunity to show what I can do. Playing for Scotland is another massive thing. It was an amazing achievement to have done that already but I want to get back and keep myself in the senior squad.
“All I want is to play games. It’s going be about football, football, football. I went back to the 21s. It was okay and understandable. I wasn’t playing for my club and so I was hardly expecting to be called up for the Scotland first team. It’s still a privilege to play for the 21s and help them.
“We have a great set-up, there are great players coming through and what we did in Toulon and in the qualifiers was great. We have done really well.”