The real reason why Sheffield United traded Callum Robinson for Oliver Burke and what they have got out of the deal
Chris Wilder has elaborated on the reasons behind his decision to sign Oliver Burke, accusing the Scotland forward’s detractors of being too quick to criticise rather than explore the reasons behind his struggles with West Bromwich Albion.
Burke’s disappointing three year spell at The Hawthorns came to an end on Wednesday when he became Sheffield United’s sixth new signing of the summer - with Callum Robinson moving in the opposite direction.
Acknowledging the move to Bramall Lane is a pivotal moment in Burke’s career - he was regarded as one of Britain’s most talented young footballers when RB Leipzig paid nearly £15m to acquire his services in 2016 - Wilder insisted the arrangement suits all parties concerned.
“I’ve got to say this - I want to say this - I think Oli has had a really bad press in recent years,” Wilder said, arguing the tactical evolution of his squad makes Burke a better fit than Robinson. “I’ve seen all the stuff about the big money movies he’s had but that’s not his fault is it? Not to my mind anyway.
“Yes, this is a big move for him and an important move for him. But I think it’s a really big and important one for us too, because of the qualities he brings.”
Given Burke’s struggles to realise the potential which proved so attractive to both the Germans and West Brom, some United supporters have questioned the wisdom of the decision to part company with Robinson a little over a year after recruiting him from Preston North End. The Star understands United collected nearly £3m, in addition to Burke, when the deal which saw the two internationals swap clubs was processed. Although he insisted it makes financial sense, Wilder explained footballing reasons were his primary concern after tracing how United’s strategies developed last term.
“Listen, we went into the Premier League with our eyes wide open,” he said. “Callum did really well for us, especially in the first part, before going to West Brom on loan and then helping them get up like we did.
“But on reflection, I felt we needed someone with raw pace and power rather than a great all round game. Oli has got both of those, on top of a terrific ability obviously. Callum’s game, like I say, is being a bit more of an all rounder. And that’s not a criticism at all. It’s just a statement of fact. Or facts as the way we see them.
"I wish Callum all the best, everyone here does, because he's a smashing player and a smashing guy too. But doing this, I think it's best for everyone."
“It’s all about complements.” Wilder continued. “It’s all about, looking at that attacking unit as a whole, and seeing if we’ve got the right ones in there. We’ve got the target. We’ve got the stretch and we wanted the other bits in there too.”
If United can get Burke firing on all cylinders, they will have acquired a player once deemed talented enough to work alongside Naby Keita and Timo Werner for a fraction of his true worth. But his presence in South Yorkshire does represent something of a gamble on Wilder’s part given the 23-year-old’s struggles to live-up to the hype surrounding his breakthrough season at Nottingham Forest, which drew flattering but ultimately unhelpful comparisons with Gareth Bale.
“The guys in Germany, listen, they know their stuff,” Wilder said. “Everyone knows the ability Oli has got. That’s not in question. You wouldn’t have had them (Leipzig) paying what they did for him and then West Brom paying when they did for him, which was effectively the same. They aren’t daft.
“He was unfortunate at West Brom, though, with the manager (Tony Pulis) who bought him leaving pretty soon after and then they went in a different direction.”
Burke, born in Kirkcaldy but raised in the Midlands, worked under six different managers at West Brom; each with their own distinct ideas on how the game should be played. Burke also completed loan spells with Celtic and Deportivo Alaves which, despite being hugely beneficial in terms of experience, only added to the confusion surrounding his career. With that in mind, Wilder issued Burke with a clear and concise set of instructions when he agreed personal terms ahead of Monday’s game against Wolverhampton Wanderers; United’s first assignment of the new Premier League season.
“In our system, and I’m sure he’ll like this, Oli will play down the middle basically,” Wilder said. “I know he can go in elsewhere too but, with his pace, power and ability, that’s basically where we want him. He’s not done that a lot but I think it suits him and that he’ll enjoy it.”
Burke could be joined in United’s first matchday squad of the campaign by a number of other new arrivals, including former Derby County duo Max Lowe and Jayden Bogle. Ethan Ampadu, on loan from Chelsea, is also expected to feature alongside goalkeepers Aaron Ramsdale and Wes Foderingham.
“We’ve had a really good chat with Oli,” Wilder said, confirming he still wants to recruit another centre-forward before the window closes next month. “I think everyone involved has got a good deal out of this. It's one of thise things where it suits everyone. We think we've got a really good deal and I'm sure West Brom think they've got a really good one too."