Sheffield United: How a misleading story about Oli McBurnie might be a force for good

It was a storm in a Kinnettles cup. A deliberately mischievous story on a dreich news day.

Thursday, 5th September 2019, 15:43 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th September 2019, 22:15 pm
Oli McBurnie is a committed player, says Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

But tomorrow night, if Oli McBurnie is selected by Scotland, the Sheffield United centre-forward will be desperate to prove those who questioned his commitment to international football were talking out of their bahoochies.

McBurnie's first act, after reporting for duty with Steve Clarke's squad ahead of their game against Russia, was to address reports he had been less than enthusiastic about being summoned in the first place. They stemmed from an incident before last week's Carabao Cup tie against Blackburn Rovers, when McBurnie was caught on camera telling John Fleck he didn't want to be called-up because, he jokingly told his compatriot, going away was "s***e".

The comment provoked a predictable backlash on social media and clarifications from both Wilder and the player's own family. McBurnie, United's manager explained, had simply been referring to the fact Fleck was injured. They are room mates with Scotland, Wilder also revealed, before insisting context was important.

Oli McBurnie of Sheffield United and Scotland: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

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Nevertheless, McBurnie clearly felt it was important to confront the issue and provided some background information to Clarke and his team mates before the meeting with Stanislav Cherchesov's side. Steven Reid, a member of Scotland's backroom staff, later confirmed no apology had been needed.

Wilder, who signed McBurnie from Swansea City during the close season, will not have been surprised. Indeed, assessing the 23-year-old's first month in South Yorkshire, he believes his style will naturally endear him to supporters and team mates alike. Particularly, Wilder acknowledged, at Bramall Lane where fans demand his squad put in a shift.

"Oli is always going to be popular wherever he plays," he said. "He puts himself about, he's a damn good footballer and, just as importantly, he leaves it all out there on the pitch.

"We've already seen that here but really, we're not surprised. We already knew what he was like, watching him, coming up against him and speaking to other people. Every single day, he puts it all in."

Oli McBurnie scored against Crystal Palace: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

After opening his account for the season with a goal against Leicester City last month, McBurnie could emerge as a key figure in Clarke's plans for the Group I fixture at Hampden Park and next week's clash with Belgium. Real Madrid's Eden Hazard has been ruled-out of that game due to injury, potentially providing Scotland with a lifeline back into qualification contention if they can overcome the visitors from Moscow.

McBurnie's approach makes him an important cog in the United machine too. Although he failed to hit the target during Saturday's draw with Chelsea, his energy and tireless running created plenty of space for others, including Callum Robinson, whose effort proved the catalyst for United's comeback from 2-0 down.

"Oli came in (to the starting eleven) but he'd been knocking on the door for a while," Wilder said. "He'd given us a problem to think about, in terms of the selection, and that's what we wanted."

If any good does come out of 'Video-Cam Gate' and the embarrassment caused to McBurnie, it will be reminding United's players about the scrutiny they are now under after reaching the highest level.

Reid raised the subject at Scotland's training base on Tuesday, conceding professional sportspeople must always be on their guard whenever they are out in public.

"We draw a line under it, move on and look forward to the two games coming up," Reid told journalists. "There’s no doubts over his commitment.

"And the manager has openly said that he only wants committed players to be involved. If that wasn’t the case, then I don’t think Oli – or any other squad member – would be here."

"As soon as players leave their front door these days they have to be careful," Reid added. "Nights out especially, talking to people who might want to record you and ask you an innocent question and then it’s out on social media.

"With camera phones and things like that it’s a little bit different to what it used to be and they need to be very careful with the company they keep and nights out they’re having."