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Bremen hero Burke comes full circle on Bundesliga return

Kalika Mehta in Dortmund
August 21, 2022

There was bedlam in Dortmund on Saturday when Werder Bremen staged a comeback for the ages. Their 95th-minute winning goal was scored by Oliver Burke, a player back in the Bundesliga in search of a new start.

Oliver Burke is mobbed by his teammates after his last-gasp winner in Dortmund
Oliver Burke was mobbed by his teammates after his last-gasp winner in DortmundImage: Rauch/Nordphoto/IMAGO

Oliver Burke was not expected to grab the headlines in Dortmund on Saturday.

Yet it was the 25-year-old who stunned the Südtribüne into silence and sent the traveling fans into raptures as his 95th minute winner led Werder Bremen to become the first team in 7,222 Bundesliga matches to clinch a victory after trailing by 2-0 in the 88th minute.

Burke, who was brought on with just nine minutes of regular time remaining, netted after fellow substitutes Lee Buchanan (89th minute) and Niklas Schmidt (93rd) had already dramatically drawn the visitors level against Borussia Dortmund.

Just as Burke had come off the bench to secure a point in the last minute against Stuttgart last week, the super sub went one better in Dortmund.

"I don't know if I like being on the bench, but I don't mind it if I come on, score and win the game," Burke told DW after the match.

"Watching from the bench we created a lot of chances, lots, and against such a top side I am delighted for the team. It was an amazing comeback.

"It is different gravy here with the fans and it's completely different to back in England. They have the drums and it's all going off all game. The Werder Bremen fans are amazing."

It was a deserved result for Bremen who had regularly carved the hosts open throughout the game but were repelled until the final minutes.

Werden Bremen head coach Ole Werner perhaps summed the breathtaking finale best, adding: "The last minutes were pure emotion, it was madness. That can't be explained rationally."

Oliver Burke celebrates his winning goal for Werder Bremen against Borussia Dortmund
Burke returned to the Bundesliga in June this year on a free transfer from Sheffield UnitedImage: Kröger/Nordphoto/IMAGO

Burke the journeyman

Dubbed "the next Gareth Bale" as a teenager, Burke's €15.2 million move to Bundesliga new boys RB Leipzig from Nottingham Forest in 2016 came out of left field.

Although the Scottish forward promised much, he failed to adjust to the German league as he netted only once for Leipzig in 25 league games.

Even after providing an assist in the opening match of the 2016-17 season, also in a victory against Borussia Dortmund, then Leipzig head coach Ralph Hasenhüttl highlighted Burke's reluctance to track back and follow his marker.

"His hard drive on working without the ball is completely empty. He had never heard about that,” Hasenhüttl said at the time.

In the five season that followed his year with the Red Bulls, the striker epitomized a journeyman playing for five different teams and notably struggled to make an impact in spells in the English Championship, La Liga or the Premier League.

Burke's most prolific spell in that period was on loan at Scottish giants Celtic in 2018-19 when he scored four times in 11 league matches.

After being released by Sheffield United this summer, Bremen came calling with head of scouting and professional football, Clemens Fritz, saying of the forward: "He's certainly experienced. Oliver's physically strong and quick, which will help out game."

Oliver Burke in Bundesliga action for RB Leipzig.
Burke moved to RB Leipzig as a 19-year-old in 2016 - but it didn't work out.Image: opokupix/IMAGO

Steep learning curve

Burke is acutely aware that he is on the precipice of ensuring he fulfils his potential on his return to Germany.

"It is a really important part of my career," he admitted. "I said at the start of the season that I am lacking goals and I think that just makes me more determined. Even though I am on the bench, I feel like I've made a good impact.”

Though Burke has settled quickly at Werder Bremen and is "waking up happy and looking forward to training" every morning, he is aware he is on another steep learning curve.

"I am going to have some German lessons which will be important even if I can just understand a bit more from the coach," he said.

"There are still areas of my game that I need to improve on, getting in the right positions, I'm still learning how to play with the team."

A pioneer for British players

Raw pace, tidy footwork and an attacking mindset turned heads and when Burke made a prolific start to the English Championship in August with Forest, scoring four times in five matches, Premier League clubs came calling.

So the Kirkcaldy-born forward's decision to move to Germany was questioned as a lack of faith by Burke in himself to make the grade in England.

However, he was quick to rebuke that belief insisting at the time that he was not looking to be a bit-part player for a larger club.

"You can only look at Chelsea and see the amount of (young) talent they have," he said in 2016. "But they're all on loan, not getting used.

"You don't feel wanted when sign for a club, you're there for two training sessions, and then they buy someone else in your position for double the amount.

Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham in action for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga
Burke helped pave the way for Jadon Sancho, Jude Bellingham and other British talent in the BundesligaImage: Laci Perenyi/IMAGO

Although Burke's own journey did not really work out, he showed promising young British players that making the switch to the Bundesliga was a viable option to fight their way into the first team set-up and hone their skills.

Since then, Jadon Sancho, Jude Bellingham (both Borussia Dortmund), Recce Oxford (Augsburg), Ethan Ampadu, Ademola Lookman (both RB Leipzig), Rabbi Matondo and Jonjoe Kenny (both Schalke 04) have all played in the Bundesliga, among others.

And Bremen's first scorer that began Saturday afternoon's bedlam was also one of the four British players turning out at the Westfalenstadion – the other three being English trio Bellingham, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and Bremen goalscorer Buchanan.

Despite having already doubled his Bundesliga tally from his first season in the league, scoring consecutive stoppage-time goals, Burke is not getting ahead of himself.

"I have to keep going," he reflected. "Keep my feet on the ground and keep on getting better with the team."

Edited by Michael Da Silva