Sheffield United: 'Don't dare question this lad's commitment to his country'

Yes, he was anticipating the question. A member of Sheffield United's media team had primed him beforehand.

Thursday, 29th August 2019, 16:14 pm
Updated Thursday, 29th August 2019, 16:53 pm
Oli McBurnie in action for Scotland: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

But it spoke volumes, about both the gravity of the story and how it came about, that Chris Wilder still could not be bothered to script a pre-prepared answer. Instead, when asked if Oli McBurnie had been guilty of disrespecting Scotland, he simply laughed and spoke from the heart.

"It's something that has been blown up out of all proportion," Wilder said, referring to reports, published north of the border, that the centre-forward had described international duty as 's***e'. "In my dealings with Oli, he's always been so proud to play for Scotland and to call himself a Scotsman. I've met his dad, he's the same. And the name is a bit of a giveaway."

McBurnie's father Neil has also leapt to his son's defence after the 23-year-old, who became United's record transfer signing earlier this month, was captured on video uttering the word during a conversation with his compatriot and team mate John Fleck before Tuesday's Carabao Cup win over Blackburn Rovers. Although Wilder was clearly minded to ignore the matter altogether when journalists gathered at the club's training complex to discuss this weekend's Premier League fixture at Chelsea, he decided to confront the matter head on so as to spare his player any potential discomfort when he reports for his adopted country's forthcoming games against Russia and Belgium.

Oli McBurnie: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

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Indeed, before moving on to more pressing issues,Wilder highlighted an incident from his own not-so-distant past to explain why context is important. McBurnie, he explained, had merely been commenting on the fact injury would cost Fleck his place in Steve Clarke's latest squad.

"We've all said things in jest at times," Wilder said, casting his mind back to last season's Championship promotion race. "We've all said things at time, when you mean it but it gets taken out of context.

"Look at me last year, when we had a terrific run in with Leeds. I always had full respect for Marcelo Bielsa and his side. I still have. I said a couple of things in response to a few things a couple of their lads said and a big thing was made about it. I thought 'should I have said that?' But I didn't mean it like that."

"The first conversation I had with him (McBurnie), that was about the national side," Wilder added. "I remember asking him did he support Leeds because he was born there. He said it was always Rangers and Scotland for him.

Chris Wilder: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

"If he didn't want to go, he wouldn't go. He'd make that clear. He views being in the Premier League as a chance to enhance his opportunities with Steve and Scotland."