In defence of Oli McBurnie - the Sheffield United 'joker in the pack' who doesn't get the credit he deserves

It is testament to how far our club has progressed that we no longer have two key strikers who must play every match and score all the goals between them.

By Carl Asaba
Friday, 11th March 2022, 12:49 pm

We have various high-level attacking options, each with their own unique set of attributes that the manager can employ to try and win football matches.

As a player I was a record signing for Reading, where I endured a terrible time and was the focus of the fans' frustrations.

Each time I took to the pitch it was a struggle for me; I was tense and I played within myself with a fear of messing up.

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Sheffield United's Oli McBurnie has struggled for goals this season but he brings more to the team than just that

The tension of the fans when the ball came to me was palpable, I really found it hard to play as I wanted and how the team needed. I wasn’t playing as I was bought to play, so I understood the fans frustrations although there were many contributing factors.

However, to criticise a player that is doing what he was brought in to do seems very harsh.

Oli McBurnie seems to be getting a rough ride, and from what I know of the Blades fans it’s really hard for me to understand why.

We as Blades value those who give their all for the team objective, yet I see and hear so much negativity aimed at Oli and I think it's misdirected - I feel Blades fans should really get behind him as he really is one of their own.

Through my eyes McBurnie cares more for the team than for his own personal stats and status.

As a former forward who was a ‘goalscoring striker’, driven by the desire to score goals, I was selfish and greedy and if I was given a minute on the pitch I would focus my energy to try and score a goal in that minute.

If I went a number of games without scoring I would be anxious and tense and would have a feeling of letting my team and fans down. Bluntly I needed goals to justify my place on the pitch.

I watch McBurnie arrive at the ground, he’s smiling and happy, he warms up not looking like a man who is tense, or desperate to find a goal as I used to, he’s happy and jokey when a substitute and wishes his team mates good luck before kick off.

He gets onto the pitch and he retains possession, ambles into the box when I’m screaming from commentary box that he needs to break his neck to get across the near post or that he should have taken a shot as you don’t shoot you don’t score (that’s me thinking as a man who lives for goals).

But Oli continues working hard doing what he does, he retains possession, he links play and he thinks unselfishly.

In the goal where Billy Sharp scored after a 27 pass build up against West Brom, the ball was bounced into McBurnie four times and he made four great passes helping us move from one side to the other.

He did what he was bought to do and what other attacking players often struggle to do. The ball would not have been bounced into me or many other former Blades attacking players four times and remained in our possession.

Earlier this season away at Barnsley, Lys Mousset was wonderful alongside Oli and scored two great goals but his partner did the unglamourous work in his unglamourous way, and got very few plaudits for his efforts.

Moose, carrying lots of weight, and not in a physical shape of a highly-paid professional athlete was sent away from our club to a new land full of pasta and gnocchi as the manager felt we would not get benefit from him staying, removing a set of attributes that McBurnie never possessed, this is not Oli's fault. The same goes for Ollie Burke, another player removed from our attacking options with incredible attributes who the manager could not trust to provide performances to the level he was bought to provide.

McBurnie is a rounded footballer; his touch, and technique are very very good, his pass appreciation and weight of pass again very good, his team ethic again top notch. He doesn't have the goals of others but we need to look past his fee, look past his playing number and appreciate that he was bought to retain possession in a possession focused team with other goal scoring players around him.

McBurnie is the only experienced attacking option we have available to supplement 'The Goat' and he seems to be taking our frustrations for not possessing the attributes and goals that the others were bought to supply due to the others unavailability, such as Rhian Brewster and David McGoldrick.

McBurnie has simply been McBurnie, I have changed my commentary of him accordingly and feel a little ashamed that I also gave him a hard time for not being Keinan Davis, the Forest forward on loan from Aston Villa, covering every blade of grass with pace, power and skill.

I think we all need to appreciate he could have an important role in our promotion push. I have been lucky to play in front of Blades fans and I have always marvelled at the energy the fans transmit to the players, give Oli the positive energy you gave me, and have given many other Blades players who gave their all; focus any negativity on the players the manager had to send away as they were not doing what they were bought to do. They have let us down, not McBurnie who stands on the side of the pitch cheering on our side's goal against Boro while getting abused by the Boro fans. He wasn’t stood sulking that someone was scoring and getting glory.

He is a real Blade, trust the old manager who bought him for a role and the new manager who trusts him. He is one of our own.

PS. Any chance of actually getting Keinan Davis for next season?