Oli McBurnie turns 22 today but he won’t waste time lamenting the birthday gift that got away at Estadio Azteca. The striker returns from Scotland’s summer tour to a future that is full of uncertainty at Swansea.
He relished being part of Alex McLeish’s plans in Peru and Mexico, where he picked up his third and fourth cap. He had the privilege of wearing the Scotland No 9 shirt at Estadio Azteca and so nearly adorned his performance with a goal after powering Johnny Russell’s cross towards goal.
However, his effort hit the left-hand post and came out again. McBurnie wondered whether there was something amiss with the goalposts since he could not believe the effort bounced out into play again rather than deflecting in past Guillermo Ochoa for what would have proved an unlikely Scotland equaliser.
He was undaunted by the task of leading the Scotland line in one of football’s great temples and isn’t agonising over the near-miss.
The striker is still waiting to break his international duck but seems to have an ardent supporter in McLeish, who praised the players afterwards and noted his selfless running. All that’s missing is the goal the player thought was his shortly after half-time.
“I caught it really well and as soon as it left my head I thought it was in,” he said. “I think there is something wrong with the goalposts here. It’s one of those things, on another day it goes in. But it’s gone now. I used to get hung up on it and I used to let these kind of things affect me. As a striker you are going to get chances, you are going to miss some too. I was disappointed not to score but I am not going to let it affect me. It just shows that at international level these chances are hard to come by.”
With his style of playing with his socks rolled down towards his ankle and shirt untucked outside his shorts McBurnie looks permanently exhausted. But he had very good reason for appearing dead on his feet given the high altitude of Mexico City and muggy conditions.
“There was no oxygen on the pitch and although it wasn’t as hot by kick-off time, it was still an extremely tough shift,” he said. “That’s unlike anything we are used to in the UK, but obviously the Mexican boys are used to it. We just had to adapt as best we could and I think we did that to be fair. We only had a day really to acclimatise and they are a very good side who are heading for the World Cup.
“We had to stay as strong as we could defensively. When you lose an early goal you have to regroup and the gaffer has made sure we were prepared for all circumstances. We tried to get something out of it and on another day we might have got a draw.”
McBurnie spent the second half of the last campaign on loan at Barnsley from Swansea and scored regularly enough to earn the club’s player of the year award.
He has one season left on his Swansea contract but admits he is in the dark about what might happen. It does not help that the Welsh club are currently manager-less after Carlos Carvalhal left his post following relegation from the Premier League.
Speculation linking McBurnie with a move to Rangers persists and as much as he would like to move to the side he grew up supporting, he admits it’s only wishful thinking at present.
“My tweeting probably doesn’t help!” he said. “Basically I am a Rangers fan and I said the other day that whatever happens I want Steven Gerrard [pictured] to go there and do as well as he can. I want Rangers to get back where they belong. Whether that’s with me there or not it is what it is. I want to play first-team football. I want to play at the highest level possible and I want to play every week. My loan spell at Barnsley was my first taste of playing at a good level week in and week out and I really enjoyed it.
“I scored nine in 16 games and I got player of the season there. I’ve had that sniff of it now and I don’t want to go back to being a bit-part player. I want to be somewhere I can play every week and be the main man.”