You wouldn’t exactly call the footballing career path trodden by Werder Bremen’s Oliver Burke as straightforward. A big money move to the Bundesliga as a 19-year-old failed to work out and the winger’s career soon descended into a series of loans and moves down the divisions of England into the Championship as he failed to live up to his huge potential. Now back in Germany, he is grabbing the headlines for all the right reasons. Has his time finally come?
The next big thing?
RB Leipzig certainly believed they had got in ahead of the rest when signing Burke back in 2016 for €15.2 million. After impressing with Scotland at youth level (in the same team as Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney) he enjoyed his breakthrough with Nottingham Forest in the Championship and was attracting interest from a host of clubs including Manchester United.
“He is an outstanding talent with an awful lot of potential,” RB Leipzig director Ralf Rangnick told the club’s website at the time. “He fits with the high pace and way of playing very well and will make his next sporting development step with us.”
Die Roten Bullen thought they had potentially signed the ‘next Gareth Bale.’ Burke however struggled to make the breakthrough at the Red Bull Arena and scored just once with two assists in 25 appearances. After just one season in Germany Leipzig cut their losses and sold him back to England with West Bromwich Albion paying RB what they had shelled out 12 months previously.
The same problems with stepping up occurred at West Brom in the Premier League and loan spells with both Celtic and Deportivo Alaves also failed to spark an upturn. Sheffield United paid €6.5 million for him in 2020, but yet again he failed to really make an impression and another loan move to Millwall was arranged. In seven seasons Burke has racked up 192 league appearances across all clubs and scored 17 goals.
The potential shown as a youngster however has never fully been fulfilled and the danger is that he’ll go down as one of those players that ‘could have been.’ However, he is still just 25-years-old, so is by no means over the hill.
Take a chance on me
With Werder Bremen promoted back to the Bundesliga after one season away, the Grün-Weißen were looking to strengthen their squad economically and Frank Baumann and Clemens Fritz took a punt bringing Burke back to the Bundesliga on a free transfer five years after he left.
“Oliver has seen a lot in his career so far and with 110 appearances in top divisions, he’s certainly experienced. He’s physically strong and quick, which will help our game,” said Clemens Fritz, head of scouting and professional football.
Coach Ole Werner was also pleased with the acquisition saying: “Oliver has played up front and on the wings in his career, where he utilised his pace. He will provide us with more options up front.”
That pace up front has certainly been in evidence in the opening games and two sensational goals in injury time versus VfB Stuttgart and Borussia Dortmund has brought his name back into the headlines for the right reasons.
His last-gasp equaliser at home to Stuttgart was breath-taking, but nothing compares to the drama experienced at the Signal Iduna Park on matchday 3 as his goal in the 95th minute turned the game completely on its head and secured a famous win for Werder. He is already a hero at the Weser Stadion.
“I’m always hungry for goals and being able to score in back-to-back games is really cool” he said afterwards. “I simply put my head down and ploughed on through and hit the ball as hard as I could – and it worked.
“It’s one of the best goals I’ve ever scored, and the pass from Mitchell was perfect. I’m insanely happy to have been able to score again. I actually don’t have the words for it. It was insane. We had a huge mountain to climb and I’m proud of our performance today. I’m really happy for the boys and for the team; everyone has trained long and hard and it’s paying off now.
“It is different gravy here with the fans and it’s completely different to back in England. They have the drums and it’s all going off all game. The Werder Bremen fans are amazing.”
Maybe it was a case of too much, too young for Oliver Burke. Now, with a few years in the doldrums behind him, Werder will be hoping they can reignite the flame was so evident back in 2016.