Chris Iwelumo has defended Sheffield United striker Oli McBurnie after his withdrawal from the Scotland squad.
McBurnie was included by national team manager, Steve Clarke, for upcoming Nations League fixtures with Israel and Czech Republic.
Yet the 24-year-old pulled out of the squad, with it later reported he had an injury. However, fans of the Tartan Army were confused and annoyed when, two days later, McBurnie played in a pre-season friendly for the Blades.
Both Clarke and United boss Chris Wilder explained the decision, while McBurnie defended himself on social media. Now Iwelumo has backed his fellow Scot.
“I think he’s quality. He ticks all boxes as a striker – mobility, presence, link-up play. He puts his head where it hurts and is an absolute pain for defenders,” the former forward told BBC Sport.
“With the right service, he can be unplayable. He gets a bit of stick, but doesn’t shy away from it. Once he gets his first Scotland goal and that weight is off his shoulders, he can kick on.
“He has pulled out a couple of squads but the public never really know what players are carrying – I once joined the Scotland squad with a hamstring injury that I’d just suffered and I couldn’t walk.
“So I did nothing for 10 days, had one day’s training back with Burnley, then scored a hat-trick the next day. It’s not prioritising club over country, it’s just doing what’s right for your body.”
Iwelumo has a point
This isn’t the first time Leeds-born McBurnie, who qualifies for Scotland through his grandparents, has got on the wrong side of their supporters.
Last September, the attacker apologised to his teammates after a video posted by the Blades social media team. In it, fellow Scot John Fleck asks McBurnie if he was going away on international duty, to which he responded: “I hope not”.
Once again, both Clarke and Wilder defended him. McBurnie also explained that he was only joking, but that the “damage was already done”.
The lukewarm reception he receives on the international stage probably isn’t helped by his record. In nine caps so far, McBurnie has failed to score.
But the criticism he receives isn’t justified either. There is certainly a difference between playing back-to-back competitive fixtures in four days, compared to a substitute’s appearance in a friendly.
For McBurnie, though, some bridges with the fans need to be built. As Iwelumo says, a goal will certainly go some way to achieving that.