Scotland: Is Sheffield Utd’s Oli McBurnie a lost cause for the national team?

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Oli McBurnie struggled to replicate his club form in Scotland

The man who kicks Scotland at the Euros, or an overvalued and overpriced striker who has engagement issues with international football?

Sheffield United’s £ 20million striker Oli McBurnie is expected to be invaluable to his country but has yet to deliver on his promise. He remains a puzzled figure for Scottish fans, who have been lukewarm at best about his contribution – or lack of it – so far.

McBurnie had done his reputation no favor by withdrawing from Steve Clarke’s squad for the next Nations League opener, then playing for his club two days later.

Amidst the controversy, BBC Scotland examines whether the 24-year-old is a misunderstood talent worth persevering with.

Thrown deep

Born in Leeds, but eligible thanks to his grandparents, McBurnie made his low-key Scotland debut in a 1-0 friendly loss to Costa Rica in Hampden in March 2018.

His cap count is now nine, including five starts, and he has yet to break his scoring duck. It’s an inauspicious start that deserves closer examination.

As a young raw striker, embarked on a struggling squad under Alex McLeish, three of McBurnie’s first four appearances coincided with Scotland’s failure.

His playing time totals just 459 minutes – more than a third of that came in the season-ending World Cup losses to Peru and Mexico two years ago, and the disastrous 3- loss. 0 in Kazakhstan in qualifying for Euro 2020. Scotland’s scarcity of threat in these matches left him isolated and frustrated up front.

And McBurnie isn’t the only one who has to wait to make a breakthrough. Steven Naismith took seven games on goal for Scotland – scoring once in his first 12 – while Leigh Griffiths’ first goal came in his 13th appearance.

Sharp for the blades

McBurnie’s national record belies his hesitant start on the international stage. His 24 goals for the Swansea Championship side in 2018-19 convinced Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder to break the club’s transfer record for him.

The fees may have seemed high, but its trajectory has not slowed down. He was an effective part of a team that defied expectations, finishing ninth in their first top flight campaign in 12 years.

Six goals in 36 league appearances made McBurnie the club’s top scorer and his 50 shots, and 111 touches in the opposing box, were both more than any teammate.

Player Expected objectives Expected help Combined
Oli McBurnie 7,72 1,85 9,57
David McGoldrick 7,99 1,28 9.27
John Lundstram 5,28 2,22 7,50
Lys Mousset 5,53 1,22 6,75
John Fleck 3.13 3,35 6,48

In fact, the stats paint a picture of a well-balanced skill set. Opta’s data for the combined quality of scoring chances and chances created show he was the Yorkshire club’s biggest goal threat.

However, his game is not all about finishing. McBurnie won possession 16 times in the final third, a figure only improved at Sheffield United by 17 from midfielder John Lundstram.

And McBurnie put his 6-foot-2 frame to good use, too. His 200 won aerials were the second-highest total of any Premier League striker, with West Ham’s Sebastien Haller leading with the 218.

Antipathy of the fans, but faith of the manager

Why was McBurnie not brought to the heart of the tartan army? The lack of goals did not help, nor unfortunate incidentexternal link a year ago, when footage from Sheffield United TV led to claims he was not keen on international duty.

Wilder dismissed the accusations, saying his player was “proud” to play for Scotland.

However, this week’s withdrawal is not one-off. In October last year, McBurnie retired injured from Clarke’s squad for matches against Russia and San Marino, as he played for his club on either side of that double header.

And, including the next two games, he’s only been available for four of Clarke’s 10 games in charge.

Relevantly, he still has Clarke’s backing. While much of the fuss last week centered around Australia-born Lyndon Dykes’ first call, the head coach was keen to publicly congratulate McBurnie.

And Clarke was quick to offer an explanation for the striker’s friendly 45-minute outing for Sheffield United on Tuesday, explaining that it made ‘sense’ for him to stay with his club and continue to recover from a foot problem.

With Scotland not really being spoiled for choice ahead of time as the seismic Euro 2020 match against Israel looms next month, Clarke can’t afford to call off McBurnie.

His country needs him more than ever, and he was the top contender for the lone striker role in the Nations League dress rehearsals. But that luck is now gone and doubts about its reliability have grown.

Speaking earlier in the week, McBurnie made no hint of his impending absence noting the importance of the next two months.

“It’s a huge time for Scotland,” he said. “With the quality that we have, we want to qualify for a major tournament. It’s been quite a long time now, so now is the time. “

‘With the right service it is unplayable’

Former Scotland striker Chris Iwelumo

I think it is of quality. He ticks all the boxes as an attacker – mobility, presence, bonding play. He puts his head where it hurts and it’s absolute pain for defenders.

With the right service, it can be unplayable. He takes a little stick, but does not hesitate to move away from it. Once he gets his first goal in Scotland and that weight is off his shoulders, he can start.

He took a few teams out, but the public never really knows what the players are wearing – I joined the Scottish team before with a hamstring injury that I had just suffered and couldn’t walk.

So I didn’t do anything for 10 days, I had a training day with Burnley, then I did a treble the next day. It’s not prioritizing the club over the country, it’s just doing what’s right for your body.

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