By Luca Parrish
Over the years, Mr Burke has worked at many top-level clubs; he was Director of Football at Brighton and Hove Albion and Head of Tactical Analysis at Derby County.
At both Fulham and Southampton he was the Head of Talent Identification and Recruitment, and was responsible for signing players such as Chris Smalling and Leo Ulloa. In addition to this, he has worked as a youth coach at Fulham and Charlton as well as spending three years working at the acclaimed Aspire Sports Academy in Qatar.
When I sat down to interview him, I realised that he didn’t take the path into coaching that some might expect, first becoming a teacher after finishing his playing career. He says that he “was not offered a professional contract after a spell as a youth player at Brighton and then decided to become a coach.” He then chose a teaching degree at university and “aligned it with coaching qualifications to become a youth coach.”
He said that there were a number of key skills and attitudes he possessed and goals he had set that enabled him to advance to such a high level in football. These things included “hard work, having clear goals and working towards them, doing the best I could do in any job I was at and being bold enough to lead workshops, demonstrations and coaching sessions.”
Next, I enquired about where he enjoyed working the most. Quickly and assuredly, he answered Brighton, where he was Director of Football rather than being a coach or scout. He says that as Director of Football, his “role was much broader.” Burke adds that “it was good to be able to build the whole football club, from the vision and the philosophy, to employing all the staff”.
In addition to this, at Brighton, he ran “the football side of the club: running the budget, transfers, players wages, the academy, and all those parts.” He says “it was exciting to start from scratch rather than inheriting an existing football culture.”
He feels that young players need to have “resilience and grit, they need to be mentally strong and deal with setbacks, and have a continuous improvement mentality.” Mr Burke also believes that a good young player should be able “to see the game not as a fan, but as a way of learning when they watch it.”
His focus on the mental side of the game in answer to the previous question led me to believe that he values this aspect of the game more than the physical or technical sides. However, Burke believes in the ‘four corner model’: “The technical and tactical, the mental, the physical and social corners.”
To help back up the last point, he described football as a “social game” and added that “you’ve got to get on with people.” He said that “players need to have strengths in all of the four corners”, and to know “where their weaknesses lie.” Mr Burke says that the mental aspects of the game get more and more important as players progress and says that he often sees players “who have great ability”, but who fail to apply themselves in the correct manner.
He has also worked with many players who have gone on to become very successful at high levels. He “was very fortunate’ to coach ‘the likes of Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe,” along with many other of the “best boys in the South East of England.” That group of players also included the likes of Ledley King and Ashley Cole. They “really stood out as the best young players” he worked with.
My final question was about playing styles: did he prefer Guardiola’s attacking flamboyance or Mourinho’s defensive pragmatism?
Mr Burke added that he thought “teams have to be defensively organised,” but he also said that “when you are attacking, you want people to be creative and have individuality,” and that “whatever the shape is, it has to allow people to express themselves and have freedom to be creative, whilst having a balanced attack and defence.”