Oli McBurnie was a gangly teenager when he first caught Phil Parkinson’s eye by banging in goals for fun in the Bradford City youth team.
Fast forward six years, and the coach who set the Scot on the path to glory is not the least bit surprised at McBurnie’s development.
Premier League new boys Sheffield United have agreed to pay Swansea £20-million, making McBurnie the most-expensive Scottish player ever.
There are plenty of eyebrows being raised at the transfer fee for a player who has never played at a higher level than English Championship.
It’s £5m more then the previous record sum paid by West Brom to RB Leipzig for McBurnie’s Scotland colleague, Oliver Burke, in 2017.
But Parkinson reckons the ground-breaking fee could be a snip, with the 23-year-old boasting the rare ability of being a natural goalscorer.
Parkinson, now boss at troubled Bolton Wanderers, admitted: “When I first saw Oli, I was manager at Bradford and he was an apprentice.
“He was doing well in the youth team. At that time, he was still growing into his body. He looked a bit awkward.
“But we had him up with the first-team pretty regularly, and it was clear he had huge potential.
“The thing that first struck me about him was that he scored all sorts of goals.
“He would scuff them in from six yards, then create something special to score a spectacular one from range.
“I immediately liked him. He was different to most academy players. He was tall, rangy and intelligent.
“He could play in a withdrawn position off the front, and do just as well as a No. 10 as a No. 9.
“Oli was always confident in his own ability, so I’m sure the fee won’t bother him unduly.
“I actually don’t think it’s a ridiculous fee when you look at what is being spent this summer.
“It’s certainly not over the top for a player who has scored a lot of goals in the Championship.
“The only question is, can he go to the next level?
“I’ve always liked him. He is a goalscorer, which is what the game is all about.”
McBurnie started off in the Leeds United youth team and had trials at Manchester United before pitching up at Bradford.
Two loan spells at Chester helped toughen him up, and after shining on his return to Valley Parade, he was sold to Swansea in 2015.
Parkinson was surprised that bigger clubs weren’t prepared to take a punt on a rough diamond.
“I’d recommended him to a few Premier League managers because I felt he offered something different,” Parkinson revealed.
“Huw Jenkins at Swansea was prepared to pay for him – maybe in the region of £250,000 – and that has now been justified!
“Oli provides a team with a goal threat, and that’s what wins you games. Fans love to see these types of players and that’s why they cost a lot and earn a lot.
“I’ve come across Oli a few times since he left Bradford. He’s a good lad, and has an air of confidence about him. I like that and you have to carry that as a striker.
“You have to make chances, sometimes miss them and be brave enough to go back in again.”
McBurnie was a Scotland Under-19 player when Parkinson had him at Bradford.
Former boss Alex McLeish capped him for the first time against Costa Rica last March, and awarded him another six caps before exiting.
New gaffer Steve Clarke will hope McBurnie hits the ground running in the Premier League as he bids to take the nation to Euro 2020.
Parkinson added: “It’s now all about him taking things to the next level, and I hope he does well.”
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