It would be understandable if representing Scotland under-21s wasn’t uppermost in the mind of Oliver Burke right now. That, though, will be anything but the case according to Scot Gemmill, who will manage him at international level next month.
A year ago, the opening international break of the season brought Burke a first start for Scotland’s full team. It came only a matter of days after he had become the country’s most expensive player with a £13 million move to RB Leipzig from Nottingham Forest. Now he has dropped out of the senior set-ups for both club and country – a £15m move to Crystal Palace has been mooted – causing the clamour that was once around him as Scotland’s big hope to dissipate.
The need for the winger to put his career on an upward trajectory again has Gemmill convinced that Burke will be bursting to show his worth when Scotland U21 host Holland in their European Championship opener on 5 September. He can say so confidently because the 20-year-old proved an inspirational performer as the young Scots reached the semi-finals of the Toulon tournament in May.
“Oliver is obviously, hopefully, going to be coming with a real point to prove,” said Gemmill. “Not just with what has happened with the national team but his club as well. He’s said himself that he’s determined not to sulk, determined to improve himself.
“Oliver was incredible in the summer, in terms of his application. In a way, we shouldn’t have expected anything else, knowing him as we do.
“I went to see him during pre-season in Austria recently and he spoke really well. We weren’t sure at that time if Gordon Strachan was going to take him for the full squad. The fact that he hasn’t, we benefit from that. Now we really need to use the weapons he’s got, his power and his pace.”
Gemmill isn’t concerned about the possibility that Burke could face the upheaval of moving club in the days leading up to the Scotland under-21s meeting up. “Obviously we don’t have a lot of insight into that. But it’s not long until we play,” he said. “I honestly couldn’t tell you what is going on behind the scenes. But I know from speaking to him that there’s no question he’ll be coming to give his maximum.”
Asked if he would be disappointed to see Burke move away from a club with an enviable set-up devoted to developing young players, Gemmill said: “That’s a personal question for Oliver. He’s got himself that move, he’s really determined and ambitious. It’s about how he sees his pathway, the opportunities he’s going to get. He knows that we’ll support him whatever he decides.”
The young Scots need support in Gemmill’s first under-21 campaign. It is one wherein realism dictates that results may have to come second to allowing players to grow and develop an understanding of the requirements of the international domain.
Against top-tier countries Holland and England, Gemmill will be seeking to build a new team.
His 22-strong squad features ten uncapped players at this level. Celtic duo Anthony Ralston and Calvin Miller are two, the pair having been spotlighted in recent weeks through regular exposure by Brendan Rodgers. “It’s credit to them that their manager is trusting them to play in a team that has been so successful,” said Gemmill. “But, at the same time, it shows everybody who asks: ‘Where are they? Where are these young players coming through?’ It shows that they are there.”
Scotland Under-21 squad
Ryan Fulton (Hamilton Academical)
Jack Ruddy (Wolves)
Jason Kerr (St Johnstone) *
Ross McCrorie (Rangers)
Scott McKenna (Aberdeen)
Calvin Miller (Celtic)
Anthony Ralston (Celtic)
Liam Smith (Hearts) **
John Souttar (Hearts)
Greg Taylor (Kilmarnock)
Theo Archibald (Brentford)
Chris Cadden (Motherwell)
Adam Frizzell (Kilmarnock)
Michael Johnston (Celtic)
Stephen Mallan (Barnsley)
Lewis Morgan (St Mirren)
Dominic Thomas (Kilmarnock)
Iain Wilson (Kilmarnock)
Oliver Burke (RB Leipzig)
Ryan Hardie (Rangers)
Oliver McBurnie (Swansea City)
Scott Wright (Aberdeen)
* on loan to Queen of the South
** on loan to St Mirren