Ollie Burke transfer: 'Even at an early age he was very competitive and hated losing'
Burke ended an 11-year stay with his boyhood club Nottingham Forest on Sunday when he signed a five-year deal with German top flight side Red Bull Leipzig for £13 million.
While the rapid scale of his rise has surprised many, culminating with the deal which made him Scotland’s most expensive footballer, his peers and boyhood coaches had few doubts he would make it as a professional.
John Ferneley College sports ambassador Paul Jacobs got an early glimpse of Burke’s ability when he arrived at the school in 2009.
Forest commitments limited his involvement in the school team, but he did play throughout Year 7.
“It soon became clear he was a very good player,” Paul said.
“In one cup game in particular we were losing 4-0 and Ollie managed to inspire the team to a 5-4 victory.
“Even at that early age he was very competitive and absolutely hated losing. In another game he had to be substituted because he was so upset that we were going to lose and go out of the cup.
“He was allowed to play when the Year 11 team had their best-ever run in the County Cup to make the semi-final.”
Burke also entertained both fellow students and staff at the Melton secondary school during BTEC sport lessons.
“He would showcase his skills during the lesson, often while wearing school uniform and shoes,” Paul added. “And still no-one could take the ball off him.
“He was a confident student and it was always obvious to everyone that he would make it as a pro footballer.
“But he kept his feet on the ground and was never arrogant towards fellow students or staff.”
Best friend and fellow John Ferneley old boy Tom Rigby followed a similar path, having been on the books at Derby County right through to a scholarship at their academy.
“He has grown up a lot in the last few years and he has handled it all really well,” Tom said. “I am more than proud of him.”
Burke, who was named Melton Times Junior Sports Personality of the Year in 2015, has made an explosive start to the season with four league goals in August.
The tally includes one in an emotional City Ground swansong on Saturday against Leeds United.
He had joined Forest as an eight-year-old after playing for just over a season with Asfordby Hill-based club Mowbray Rangers.
In signing for Leipzig he became the first Melton footballer to join a professional top flight club since Paul Anderson was bought by Liverpool as a 17-year-old in 2005.
His next destination was widely expected to be to the Premier League until the Bundesliga club made Forest an offer too good to turn down.
Steve Hall helped coach the seven-year-old Burke at Mowbray’s Saturday morning soccer school, along with Martin Jane and Phil Baker.
“He did stand out a little bit and he was willing to learn,” Steve said.
“He always had that pace and was keen; you could see he was above-average.
“Both myself and Martin, as Forest fans, are disappointed to see him go, but wish him all the best for the future.”
Burke is away with the Scotland squad as they prepare for this weekend’s World Cup qualifier in Malta, and could make his third senior appearance for the country of his birth.
As well as a difficult decision for a lifelong Forest fan to make, the move overseas was also a brave one, kickstarting a career in a new league, and beginning life in a different country while still just 19.
He added: “Having understood the club’s decision to accept an offer, I quickly came to the conclusion it was time to move on and experience a new challenge.
“Leipzig wanted me and expressed a real hunger for me to join their team.
“(Manager) Ralf Rangnick was a huge part of my decision to choose them over a number of other interested clubs in both the UK and Europe.
“They have a desire to be one of the top clubs in Europe and I’m excited to be part of that and start the next chapter in my career.”