Oliver Burke on why “Football isn’t about the individual”
Oliver Burke became the most expensive Scottish player ever when he made his move to RB Leipzig for €13m at the end of last summer. Since then he’s been part of a team that’s been the surprise package of the 2016-17 Bundesliga season.
Here he talks to The Red Bulletin about:
- What young players should look for before moving to a new club
- How RB Leipzig has helped improve his defensive game
- What he misses most about the British Isles
- The difference between the Bundesliga and British football
- Who the biggest joker in the RB Leipzig team is
THE RED BULLETIN: Did any of you expect to be fighting for Champions League qualification when you met for pre-season training last year?
OLIVER BURKE: Well, I wasn’t there for the full pre-season training as I arrived towards the end, but it wasn’t something we really talked about. Our target was to just go into every game with the intention of winning it.
Why do you think Leipzig has been so successful this season?
It definitely has something to do with how well knitted we are as a team, the hard work we put in at the training ground, and the little details we go through like video-analysis and looking at individual players before games. We’re all well drilled and know exactly what we have to do when we go out there on the pitch.
How difficult was it for you coming from playing with Nottingham Forest in the Championship to fighting for the Champions League in one of the strongest leagues in the world?
I think I was aware of how difficult it would be, but I definitely felt like I was ready for the challenge and it felt like the right move to make. It’s a huge step to move to a different country and try to integrate into a new team and system, but the team and the staff have been great and it is just amazing to be part of such a talented group of lads.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced this season? Is there anything about playing in the Bundesliga that’s really taken you by surprise?
I mean, I used to follow the league on TV and stuff, but when I first came, the support and fan base in Germany blew me away. Football is massive in the country, and the stadiums are always full. It’s a lot different to the Championship! It took a while to get used to that, but it really is an experience to play in front of these kinds of crowds.
Do you think you have achieved everything you set out for yourself at the start of the season?
I think I’d have liked to have played a little bit more this season, and perhaps have been a bit more involved. But then again, I’m really happy with the part that I’ve been able to play in the team, and hats off to my teammates, who’ve been excellent all season.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned working under trainer Ralph Hasenhüttl this season?
The most important thing I’ve learned is that it’s not about the individual. You have to work as a team. This, of course, isn’t anything new, but at Leipzig this is just taken to a completely different level when it comes to defending against the ball. It’s almost like they’d prefer you to win a challenge than go and score a goal! Putting in a real shift is what it’s all about here – and everything else comes from putting in that hard work.
And the most important piece of advice he gave you this season?
Every piece of advice from Ralph is pretty important to be honest!
You’re one of very few young players to move from the British Isles to play in one of Europe’s major leagues. Why do you think there are so few Scottish and English players playing in the rest of Europe?
[Let’s out a surprised gasp.] I’m not too sure really, it’s actually not something I’ve ever really thought about to be honest. I guess that the language barrier can be a problem, being away from home, or maybe it’s just about players being scared to leave their comfort zones. Personally, this was the right decision for me, and I’m currently loving every minute of it. But yeah, there aren’t many out there are there?
You made the conscious decision to come to Leipzig to play, rather than move to a major Premier League club and most likely go out on loan. Is this something you’d recommend to other young players that may find themselves in your position come July and August?
The first thing you need to do is look at yourself and decide if you’re happy with where you are and the position you may find yourself in. I knew the club and the staff here liked me as a player and they made me feel really welcome. They also made it very clear that I’d get the development that I need at my age, which was really important for me. But also, everyone wants to play and you want to know that a club is willing to play you, or even to just be in and around the first team squad with the knowledge that they have trust in you and you will get your chance. You definitely need to take those factors into account when making this kind of decision.
How did it feel to become the most expensive Scottish player in history when you made the move to Leipzig?
It was a privilege, but something I don’t actually think about at all really. At the time, I was totally focussed on the move, my football and fitting in well here, I didn’t really give the price tag a second thought. There are plenty of players going for a lot of money these days, and a lot more than I cost!
Were you surprised by the media hype?
It definitely caught people off guard. I think a lot of people thought I’d be moving to the Premier League, but RB Leipzig was always first choice.
How would you sum up the quality of football in the Bundesliga, is it true that German football is a lot more technical that in English leagues?
It’s one of the best in the world, without a shadow of a doubt, and some of the best teams in Europe play in the league. Is it more technical? That’s difficult for me to say because I’ve never played in the Premier League, but what I’ve learned so far is that it is can be a lot more tactical at times. It’s those little details that really matter in Germany. A lot of teams are on a level par with each other, so it could come down to one set piece or one slight tactical change that turns the game.
What about in the Leipzig team, who have you been blown away by this season?
It’s almost impossible to pick out one player I think, because this season has been such a team performance, and I think the team as a whole is the reason why individuals have been able to shine in certain games.
Who’s the joker in the Leipzig changing room?
[Laughs.] There are a couple I think. Rani [Khedira] is good fun to be with and always makes me laugh. David Selke is a little bit crazy as well!
How do you motivate yourself for a game? Do you have any rituals you go through?
Nothing extraordinary I don’t think. The sound of the fans and the atmosphere before a game is enough to get me pumped up. The fans can be quite intimidating at times, that really gets the adrenalin going.
Dortmund was an unforgettable experience. The noise those fans generate is impressive, and they’re definitely intimidating. I remember looking up and just seeing waves and waves of yellow and black fans going crazy and looking at you. That was definitely one of those ‘wow’ moments. Then I just looked down instantly and walked off. [Laughs.]
Is there anything from back home that you miss?
Definitely my family. They were unable to come over at first, and that was difficult. To come here pretty much on my own and trying to keep myself busy at first in the evenings wasn’t easy. But so much happened in those first weeks and months that it got a little easier with time.
Gareth Bale once said he really missed Nando’s when he first moved to Spain.
I love a cheeky Nando’s myself actually! Yeah, I miss my Nando’s as well to be fair. One of the first things I actually did during the winter break was to go to Nando’s. I’d forgotten how much I missed it.
How are you coping with the German food?
The food’s great. Some of it is a little different, there are a few strange dishes, but I just avoid those. I’m in the lucky position to have great dieticians and chefs working here, so they make sure we’re getting what we need.
Is the diet and training regime different to what you were used to?
Yeah, it’s very strict, and there’s a definite emphasis on doing things together as a team. We all have breakfast together, lunch together and dinner together – not every day, as it depends on what times we’re in, but we’re definitely seen as a collective here. I think that’s a little different to how things work at some clubs in England, where players often shoot off straight after training.
Do you think age has something to do with it?
Yeah that’s true. We’re a very young team, and a lot of us haven’t got families or friends over here, so it helps us keep our feet on the ground and generates a great team feeling.
You’re only 20 and have a bright future ahead of you – is playing for a top Premier League club a target of yours in the future?
Right now I just want to concentrate on playing as many games as possible for RB Leipzig, and I’m loving my time here. I love the way we play and I can only see myself getting better here. Hopefully I can make a real impact and help the team more in the next few seasons, and what happens after that, who knows?