Oli McBurnie has the chance to write his name in Swansea City history, but only if he really wants it.
@JoshKilmister takes a deeper look at the situation involving striker Oli McBurnie, and why we should aim to keep hold of him next season.
In truth, we’ve known for a long while that McBurnie is a very good player and is more than capable of playing Championship football, at the very least. The issue we face now is that so does everybody else – including him.
The Scotsman, who has recently made the step up from youth to senior level at both club and international level, has become much sought after since his loan spell at Barnsley where, despite only being there for a matter of months, picked up their player of the season award for his notable efforts in a late push for Championship survival.
But McBurnie’s 9 goals in 17 appearances wasn’t enough to ensure Barnsley a trip to the Liberty Stadium in the Championship next season, though it was very much a glimpse of what could have been for the Yorkshire-based side, who thought they’d secured a loan deal for McBurnie in the Summer, only for it to fall through at the last minute.
It was also a glimpse of what could be to come, both for McBurnie and the Swans – though whether he will be playing his football in Wales, England or Scotland next season is still very much a mystery.
Many fans have become increasingly frustrated with McBurnie in recent days as quotes have surfaced regarding a potential move to Rangers, now managed by Liverpool icon Steven Gerrard.
“As a Rangers fan I hope he goes there and he turns it around and does fantastically well…Whether that has anything to do with me or not, who knows?”
And while he admits himself that his future is “a bit up in the air” at the minute, McBurnie is hardly nailing his colours to the Swansea City mast with comments like that.
His frustrations are clear – and I think they’re justified. He was devastated when his loan fell through last summer, leaving him to bide his time in the academy. Even when first-team football came knocking for the forward, he was scarcely used in a side crying out for a goal-scorer.
In an interview with Sky Sports, having picked up February’s Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month award, McBurnie spoke of his struggle when returning to Swansea.
“When I went back, Paul Clement was in charge and he pulled me in and he was really honest with me… He said, ‘I’ve got my 25-man squad and I was expecting you to be out on loan so you’re not really part of it’. So for a couple of months it was really frustrating. I had to go back down to the U23s and almost prove my worth again with them.”
A cameo appearance away at Watford looked as though it was the start of a long-awaited run of games for McBurnie, who picked up an assist in a crucial comeback at Vicarage Road – but it was too little, too late and the Scottish international finally secured a loan move to Championship strugglers Barnsley.
You’ll know by now that his time there was a success, but relegation was the outcome nonetheless. A hatful of goals and an individual award might have softened the blow, but it put the cherry on top of what was a frustrating season for him.
Swansea can reap the benefits of McBurnie’s time in South Yorkshire – he is no doubt a more complete player now than he was a little under 6 months ago. His place in Barnsley’s squad came under scrutiny when Paul Heckingbottom, who made him a top transfer target in the summer, packed his bags when Leeds came calling, but the arrival of Jose Marais couldn’t have worked out better for the Swansea man.
With little previous experience outside of his preferred centre-forward role, McBurnie was played predominantly on the left of an attacking three.
“I’ve been a striker all my life,”
“It’s different but it’s nice to broaden my footballing horizons by learning different positions and getting more time on the ball… The gaffer likes my versatility and he has given me the freedom to drift around to try and make things happen.”
And while it may seem impatient for Swansea fans to become irritated with the club’s handling of McBurnie, whose contract expires in a year’s time, it is not unfamiliar ground for the eager-eyed. George Byers, another young, Scottish talent who has set the club’s academy alight over the past year, was also left with just weeks on his contract before being offered a renewal.
Connor Roberts is one who has been something of a success in a torrid season for the club, but even he can question why he wasn’t trusted more often when it really mattered.
The club has invested a huge amount of money into the academy, but with Premier League survival constantly on the line, haven’t had a manager confident enough to dip into it.
Should we part ways with McBurnie this summer – the rumoured fee being around £4m – we’ll struggle to find a replacement without breaking the bank. To call him a proven Championship goal-scorer might be a stretch given his limited time at Barnsley but he certainly proved that he’s capable, even in a struggling side low on confidence.
Our academy is up there with the best in the second-tier and we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot if we were to go another year without taking advantage of it.
McBurnie won’t demand a huge sign-on fee and won’t weigh down an already hefty wage bill. Not only that, but his chances of becoming a first-team regular for a club at which he’s already familiar with his surroundings, his teammates and the supporters are remarkably high. It really should be a no-brainer.