One of the first tasks completed by at the club by West Bromwich Albion sporting and technical director, Luke Dowling, was to see Oliver Burke off the premises on a six month loan to Celtic. West Brom bought the player from Leipzig two years ago. He managed only 18 appearances before heading to Glasgow.
The player made his professional debut as a 17-year-old at Nottingham Forest in September 2014. He had pace and strength, and Forest fans hoped he could be nurtured into a solid first-team performer. They would be disappointed, as Burke was sold to newly promoted Bundesliga side, RB Leipzip, who paid an eye-watering £13m for the player – a record for a Scottish player at the time.
Even as a teenager at Leipzig, questions were raised, then-Leipzig manager, Ralf Rangnick, said, “He’s very powerful, very fast and physically strong. He’s good on the ball for a player of that size and that tempo. Where he still has to improve is tactically – ‘when do I have to do what?’”
Those improvements did not come soon enough for Leipzip and when West Brom offered £15m for Burke’s services, he was packed off to the Midlands, where he failed to make an impact and found himself surplus to requirements. With bookies offering short odds on his departure on a permanent basis, Burke opted for a season long move North of border instead.
West Brom themselves were favourites at3/1 to win promotion from the Championship behind only Leeds. Even when they failed to win automatic promotion they were still favoured by bookmakers to go up, but a heartbreaking loss to rivals Aston Villa saw punters who backed their odds of 5/6 left disappointed.
At the turn of the year, Celtic were still trying to replace Moussa Dembele, who left the club on transfer deadline day last summer. Leigh Griffiths was out of commission due to personal reasons and the club did not have a fit striker to play at Ibrox in December.
Brendan Rodgers brought in three strikers, 18-year-old Timo Weah, a loan signing from Paris Saint-Germain, 22-yaer-old Ivorian Vakoun Issouf Bayo, purchased from Slovakian side Dunajska Streda and Burke, on loan from West Brom.
There was a sense that Rodgers had stacked his squad with whatever strikers he could get his hand on, but Burke was the most experienced player and was expected to be the main foil for Odsonne Edouard.
West Brom’s Luke Dowling no doubt received assurances from Rodgers of the role planned for Burke at Celtic, the echoes were perhaps expressed publicly, when Dowling said, “We sent Oli to Celtic in good faith with Brendan Rodgers and Lee Congerton; really good people up there. They wanted Oli and I am sure they would have made him a better player.
“Once Brendan left to go to Leicester, the treatment he got from the manager in place, well, subsequently we do not expect any of our players to go anywhere near Celtic Football Club. We currently have a new manager who will start working and looking at Oli and hopefully he now has an opportunity here at Albion.”
There is a general implication from Dowling that the plans and expectations of a manager who leaves a club – Brendan Rodgers – should be binding on the incoming manager – Neil Lennon. If this is the case, he is deluded. Once a manager is appointed, he assumes control of team plans, any assurances given by his predecessor are redundant. Dowling would not have the audacity to attempt to bind new West Brom manager, Slaven Bilic, to Darren Moore’s plans.