First days at work are a big deal: a minefield of opportunity to embarrass yourself or at best, go unnoticed. Not for Oliver Burke though.
Football commentator - Matt Davies - was in Leipzig to witness Burke's debut first hand.
words: Matt Davies
My immediate reaction upon reading the email was to assume that this was a piece of high class trolling from Tom, the Producer: “Matt, how do you fancy Leipzig v Dortmund on Saturday?” asked the email, supposedly innocently. Tom is not averse to a bit of japery so I thought it necessary to confirm this was a genuine offer of work rather than one football supporter seizing the opportunity to rile another in the way we are all guilty of from time to time. Once we’d established that the fact Oliver Burke would be making his debut in the aforementioned game was merely coincidental, I was in. Full disclosure: I saw Burke play once for Forest. Work and the fact I live in London means my pilgrimages to the City Ground are regretfully few and far between these days. So I wasn’t mourning the loss of Burke the player. I was still pretty upset though, in the way we all were at the nonsensical moving on of a talented player who will surely command much more than thirteen million quid the next time he moves.
Still, I agreed to take one for the team: aka my family and career, neither of whom can afford me the chance to reject a game on the grounds that I’m slightly upset that one of the participants is no longer in Garibaldi.
The first proper glimpse of Burke came early in the warm up. The TV director zooming in tight on the face of an at best befuddled, at worst terrified kid. As the camera panned out, it revealed a game of keepy uppy’s between a gaggle of Red Bulls. The group Burke was with were carefree, chomping merrily on gum whilst performing the sort of flicks and tricks us mortals can but dream of. When the ball came Burke’s way, he offloaded it precisely, if hastily. The sphere safely in the control of a team mate, Burke wiped his nose on his trackky top and flicked his hair the way a 19 year old would: desperate to exude self-confidence, but looking as out of place as a Scot in Leipzig. I wanted to go and hug him. When I was his age, I was moving from my folks house in Bingham to student halls in Radford, I wondered whether that was too big a transition. Here was Burke, smiling politely, all the while not understanding a word his new colleagues said, at the same time being watched by the ten thousand or so early arrivals who were in the stands ahead of kick off. Some first day at work.
For the first hour the game was, frankly, rotten. Radio commentary is usually all consuming, you’re so focused on who’s doing what, where and when that the actual quality of the game passes you by. Doubly so on an occasion like this, my first Bundeslgia match and thus one in which I was seeing players for the first time.
Sometimes though, a game is rubbish enough to penetrate that. This game was such. Leipzig seemed understandably keen to avoid a tonking against potentially capable opponents so sat on the edge of their box and absorbed as series of weary, listless attacks from a Dortmund team full of players back off tiring international duty.
Midway through the second half, Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhuttl gave Burke the nod. The touchline set up at the Stadium is weird – no banks of airline seats like any other modern ground, instead one long bench per team, yards from the edge of the pitch. Because of this, Burke was forced to stand awkwardly between a couple of advertising boards whilst he waited, in full kit, for what seemed like an eternity before a break in play eventually heralded his arrival.
His first involvement was in a rare Leipzig counter. Burke kept pace with his team mate, Timo Werner, who selfishly shot from a ludicrously tight angle rather than squaring for the new boy who was much better placed.
The next moment of significance came shortly before the goal. The best way I can describe it is that it was a pass which was just like the one Cesc Fabregas played for Diego Costa to score for Chelsea at Watford a couple of weeks back. Curved from 40 or 50 yards, right into the path of the waiting team mate. The only difference was that, on this occasion, there was no goal.
Not yet anyway. I’ve got to be honest, I was struggling at this point. Talking pretty much non-stop for a whole football match is rather draining, even for one who enjoys the sound of their own voice as much as I do. Then Burke picked up the ball, fed ably by fellow substitute Emil Forsberg. A bit of deft footwork, a cross that took out German, Spanish and Polish international defenders in one go and in went the winner. All that pre match nervousness forgotten, the smile so wide it absorbed the relentless rain from the Saxony sky in one giant mouthful. Well done Oliver. Decent first day on the job.
At this point, I should probably give a nod to Naby Keita, who filled the minor detail of actually scoring the goal. Like Burke, he’s Leipzig’s record joint buy at fifteen million euros. He’s two years older at twenty one but his path to his current destination has been even more mind boggling. Swapping playing Burton Albion for Borussia Dortmund is one thing but this lad was born in Guinea before moving to France where he played a season for second division Istres before being punted on to Austria, where he would be traded to Leipzig by the energy drink conglomerate that owns his past and present employers. Try getting get your head around that at the age most people are either finishing education or a couple of years into the world of work.
So yeah, well done Naby Keita. But the story on this night wasn’t about him as far as most were concerned. This was about one of those more bitter than sweet, what might have been? Situations. Say if we’d just had another season or two. Or even just a loan back until Christmas. How many last minute winners/points/moments of unbridled ecstasy would have that have worked out as?
Alas, we’ll never know. So good luck Oliver. Come back for a loan spell one day when you’re old and knackered. We’ll be here.
Matt Davies is a football commentator for, amongst others, Chelsea TV, Premier League Productions and TalkSPORT. @mattdaviesFC