“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide
While young Scottish international Oliver Burke’s ignorance could be excused for not knowing who French author Andre Gide was, the unlikely pair certainly hold the same values.
There were plenty of sneers and noses turned up when 19-year-old Burke moved from Nottingham Forest to Red Bull Leipzig in the summer. It was almost cast as a crime in some English quarters when Burke opted to chance his arm in the German Bundesliga and turn down the lure of the English Premier League.
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Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal were all tracking the Melton Mowbray prospect, but it wasn’t the right fit for Burke who decided to head for a club founded just seven years ago, but a club very much on the up.
John Hartson, who played all his career in the UK, was baffled, he could not believe it and pointed the finger at his agent.
“He’s gone over to Germany and I can’t understand that, to be honest with you. I think that stinks of agents more than anything else.
“How much German football do we all see? We see highlights of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, and that’s about it.
“The Premier League is the place to be. I thought that was the next step for him,” said Hartson.
It wasn’t though, and just what foundation Hartson had to suggest that Burke may not progress in Germany because the exposure of their rival European league in the UK was poor was a somewhat small-minded approach.
Burke, who is trying hard to learn the German language, cannot be accused of having a closed mind. The Scottish-born right winger is enjoying life and the culture in a new country and at the top of the Bundesliga to boot.
Don’t be mistaken; this is no fairytale story. The £13million deal to take Burke from Forest was the biggest ever involving a Scottish player. It’s not a rags to riches story, but a tale of boldness, and the desire to experience something new.
And just three months later Burke is already reaping the rewards after RasenBallsport Leipzig, to give them their full name, moved three points clear at the summit.
They remain unbeaten since their promotion to the top flight and if they can topple Freiburg on Friday they will march six points clear of Bayern Munich on the back of four straight promotions up the German ladder.
Burke might well be congratulated for snubbing the EPL’s elite and good on him for refusing to join the 40-plus players out on loan ‘developing’ at other clubs – the Chelsea model.
“For a young man I don’t want to go somewhere that is a big club but, really, am I going to play? Am I going to progress? Or are they just going to stick me out on loan, which happens a lot at English clubs nowadays,” Burke told the Daily Mail in September.
“You can only look at your Chelsea, and see the amount of talent they have, but they’re all on loan, not getting used.”
His decision though is paying dividends.
“It’s obviously proved everybody wrong and now I’ve really shown that I’ve come to a fantastic club. I don’t really need to say much really – look at where we are,” Burke told The Set Pieces.
“It’s been very positive. Every day I’m learning something new and I can only get better at this club,” said Burke.
Burke will be the first to admit he has plenty to learn and he’s far from the finished article, but he has moved on considerably from the teenager that was loaned to Bradford in 2014/15.
Then 17, he was sent north to pick up some first-team experience in the third tier of English football, but after two appearances and two defeats he returned to Forest having failed to show much of the potential that Forest suspected he heralded.
Burke though returned to the City Ground even more determined to improve and the following season he made 23 appearances, scoring twice, and his performances were getting noticed. Scouts from all over England were tracking the powerful forward and when he scored four times at the start of this season, Leipzig had seen enough to make him their joint-record signing.
He’s been far from a first-team regular for the upwardly-mobile German new boys. So far he has played only 193 minutes, making just one start, but he has made an impact.
His only start at Cologne saw him find the net, while he has provided two assists, but he knows he has plenty to learn.
“I have the right people around me and I’m still at a young age.
“It’s all about learning now and becoming a better player. I can’t wait to see what the future brings.”
Comparisons to Britain’s greatest ever football export – Gareth Bale – maybe premature but Burke’s future is a bright one despite being axed by Scotland recently.
Gordon Strachan dropped the youngster from the squad for the recent 3-0 defeat by Slovakia, just days after subbing Burke in the 1-1 draw with Lithuania. It will prove as a reminder to Burke that his journey has only just begun, but one player who made a similar move in 1996 – former Scotland skipper Paul Lambert – is convinced Burke is on the right path.
At the age of 25, Lambert moved from Motherwell to Borussia Dormund and he recently told the Daily Mail he is sure Burke will benefit from a similar move.
“He has been ambitious in going over there and I’m full of admiration for him. The easiest thing for him would’ve been just to stay in England.
“OK, he might not have played as many minutes as he would have liked so far. But he’s at a team that is absolutely flying, second in the Bundesliga.
“They are wiping out everything that’s in front of them, and, trust me, he will learn more there in six months than he would in a couple of years in England.”
Burke, who signed a five-year contract, will be hoping for a longer stay than that but all the signs are that if he decides to move on, his football education in Saxony will have stood him in good stead.