In a season of staggering transfer fees, a rumored sum of £15m shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows, but West Bromwich Albion’s recent swoop for highly rated RB Leipzig winger Oliver Burke is a bit of an exception.
One of the few fond memories that Nottingham Forest fans have of the transfer embargo-ridden days of the 2015-16 season is the emergence of Oli Burke. Prohibited from making any signings, Forest instead looked to their reserves, bringing through the 6’2” Scottish youth academy product who quickly found his feet in the first team. He was strong (naturally), he was fast, and he had the sort of close control that gives even seasoned center-backs sleepless nights. He also knew where the net was.
A string of stunning performances followed, and some truly memorable goals, including absolute beauties at home to Wigan and away at Cardiff, before the big money came calling, and Bundesliga upstarts RB Leipzig snapped him up for £13m at the beginning of the 2016-17 season.
But fairy tales like this one have a habit of creaking to a halt. After showing initial promise at Leipzig, Burke quickly became a squad player, carving out a niche as a regular sub, but rarely starting. A switch to the Bundesliga at the ripe old age of 19 suddenly didn’t seem like such a positive career move.
Fast forward one season, however, and the future suddenly looks brighter for Burke. Young players need to play, it’s as simple as that. If they do not, they stagnate. With this in mind, Oli Burke may have found his ideal home at the Hawthorns.
West Bromwich are flying high in a Premier League table still skewed by the haphazardness of the early season. Wins at home to Bournemouth and away at Burnley, and no goals conceded as of yet, have put them in a very nice position indeed. Few would expect them to be bothering the European end of the table come May, but the newly-forged duo of Tony Pulis and Gary Megson will be keen to strengthen their side if they are to capitalize on the start they have achieved.
After beating off interest from Crystal Palace for ‘the Scottish Gareth Bale’ as he has been dubbed, Albion can certainly be proud of both their financial clout and their influence in the league, but what does the signing mean in the immediate future; both for the club and for Burke?
The fact that Burke’s arrival comes amid growing speculation surrounding the future of WBA wideman Nacer Chadli suggests that the youngster is very much part of Pulis and Megson’s short term plans. Burke has proved himself to be a versatile player, strong on either wing and through the middle, although it was his tactical nous which appeared to let him down in Germany. This should improve, however, through coaching and close attention; two things which are certain to be lavished on the Albion’s new £15m acquisition.
West Brom’s run of straight wins came to an end this weekend at home to Stoke, thanks to a mix-up between centre-back Ahmed Hegazy and keeper Ben Foster which left the ball on a plate for Peter Crouch. He may have been the subject of some derision over his prolonged career, but the 36-year old is a proven Premier League goalscorer, and made no mistake as he leveled the game at 1-1.
At this point, a still not quite match fit Burke was watching from the dugout. It would be a further eleven minutes until Burke got his eagerly awaited cameo, coming on in the 88th minute for WBA goalscorer Jay Rodriguez. Almost immediately, the young winger won the ball and played in an excellent cross to an arriving James McClean who could not convert on the volley.
The fairytale is on hold, for another week at least, but there could be something special brewing at the Hawthorns.