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Ross Bramble writes a detailed Scout Report about Oliver Burke, the Nottingham Forest youngster who has set the Championship on fire.
The Championship – or more appropriately, the newly branded English Football League – is a breeding ground for the next generation of Britsh footballers. One only has to look at the assured start Rob Holding has made for Arsenal since his £2m move from relegated Bolton Wanderers for proof. If you wish to fluff up the list however, then let’s add the names Nathaniel Clyne, Sam Byram, Benik Afobe and Adam Lallana to the list of talents that were smoothed on the grindstone of Championship football.
Every season sees the emergence of new talent, and while the season is still in its infancy, there have already been some hugely impressive standout performers. As a huge fan of the Championship, I hope to be able to bring a number of scout reports to you over the course of the season, and the “To do” list is already quite plump. That said, I am usually reticent to compile a report on players based on a single season, since I don’t believe one campaign is enough to properly judge the ability of any player or manager. However, that rule is about to bend today, as we cover a Scotsman that has been tearing up trees in the early days of the new season – Oliver Burke, of Nottingham Forest.
Born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, 19-year-old Oliver Burke began his football career back in 2005. At the tender age of 8, Burke joined the ranks of the Nottingham Forest youth academy, plying his trade as a winger.
After 9 years in the youth set-up, Burke made his debut for Nottingham Forest’s first team during a 3-1 cup defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, with a fleeting final-minutes cameo from the bench. The youngster failed to break in the first team at the time, making only one more appearance for the team against Blackpool, before securing a month loan to Bradford. Despite only making two appearances for the Bantams, and a further substitute appearance for Forest on his return, Olly Burke had got his foot in the door.
The following season bought more opportunities for the winger as more managerial turmoil created new opportunities to impress. Six starts, twelve appearances from the bench and two goals was a great improvement on his stats from the previous campaign. And, because it would be rude not to, it should also be said that Burke’s first goal was a lovely curling shot struck with the… *ahem*… Outside of the Boot.
His season clearly impressed more than just the locals, too. Back in March 2016, Olly made his Scotland debut as a late substitute against Denmark. Scotland boss Gordon Strachan spoke highly of his debutant, questioning why Scotland should wait for him to progress through the U19’s and U21’s squads before giving him his first team debut. “We promote them as soon as they are good enough,” he said. “He is big enough and strong enough, so bang, here you go.” It’s a sentiment since echoed by his domestic side, as with the arrival of Phillipe Montanier has come a starting berth for the Scotsman – at least early doors.
So what is it that makes Olly Burke such a commodity? Well, you don’t have to watch him long to find out.
When you think of modern day wingers, you thinking of svelte, slinky, tricky little creatures, more likely to burst past you or run in behind than bulldoze and push. When you look at Oliver Burke, you think he’s more likely to do that latter. Burke is a big, tall, bulky lad for someone of his age, and clearly takes his training seriously. With his size and strength, Burke is able to hold up the play if required, and hold off a challenge when asked to contest a 50/50. The real positive to this strength however is not what it means for the players around him – don’t think make the mistake of thinking Burke is a Giroud, Carroll or Lambert hold up player. The real benefit to his strength, is the advantage it gives him when he starts to shift through the gears.
Often it is assumed that tall, strong players can’t be quick. Olly Burke is yet another example of how the qualities can co-exist in an incredibly hard to handle bundle. Burke is quick. Very quick. And beyond that, Burke’s close control is such that the Scotsman can dribble, trick and burst his way past many of the wing backs and centre backs that aren’t paying him close enough attention. It’s said that the one thing you hate to deal with as a defender is someone willing to run at you, but it occurs to me that the scariest thing is having someone run at you that you can’t even outmuscle when you get close enough to try. In this regard, Olly Burke reminds me more of a young Emmanuel Adebayor. Of course, Adebayor falls foul of an attitude or commitment problem, whereby he can be brilliant and near unplayable for defenders one week, and then anonymous the next. Burke has yet to go missing in a match, and that is hugely encouraging.
Add to that pace and strength an accomplished technical ability for someone so young, and you have the complete package. Burke has a great first touch, and his close control is something to be admired in a player so young. When allowed to run, Burke can carry the ball clear down the field, taking on two or three opponents and taking them completely out of the equation. His opening goal for Forest, as mentioned above, was an outside of the boot curler against Cardiff – a tough technique at any age. One doesn’t have to watch Burke for long to see more examples of that technical ability, either.
It should be stressed at this point that Burke is no Messi. The Argentine has the ability to skill and trick and drift around the field with the ball at his feet, but his head always raised. One of Burke’s greatest weaknesses his inability to look up during his mazy runs, and it has led him down a number of cul-de-sacs already. This can and has led to a number of promising opportunities going begging, and a less selfish approach to the game would improve Burke’s output greatly. Even in the early stages of the 2016/17 season, Burke has gone on a number of runs that have fizzled in the dead space by the corner flag, or been crowded out as he attempted to cut inside to create space for a shot. A greater openness to passing and letting others take the reigns would represent the natural evolution of Burke’s game.
It should also be said the Burke’s end product is not as refined as perhaps his new manager would have liked. Crosses, passes and shots go astray and sometimes he simply picks the wrong option when they are presented to him, but (as of time of writing) with three goals already this season, it’s clear that Montanier’s new formation and tactical approach is giving the youngster a new lease on life. His play can be selfish, and his final ball may not be consistent enough, but at 19-years-old, with seemingly consistent first team football and international exposure, these are areas that one would expect Burke to be able to address within a reasonable amount of time.