Oli McBurnie on Sheffield United's Premier League season, Chris Wilder's return and family battle away from field

by 24britishtvMarch 30, 2024, 4 p.m. 18
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Sheffield United are eight points from safety with 10 games remaining and as the Blades fight to stay in the Premier League, Sky Sports News senior reporter Tim Thornton sat down with striker Oli McBurnie, who revealed an even bigger personal battle his family are facing away from football.

Oli, it's three weeks since the last Premier League game, has it given you an opportunity to reset physically and mentally?

Definitely, I think, especially on the mental side, I think it was important that the boys got out of the building for a little bit and just kind of reset with the families or whatever they needed to do. We were all sick of seeing each other for a little bit, so, yeah, nice to have a little bit of time off, and then the last couple of weeks, get some good training in, and I feel like the boys are all rejuvenated and ready to go.
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What has it been like from a mental perspective this season because you've taken a lot of hits? Is it difficult to get away from football and switch off?

Yeah, definitely. To get to the level that we've got to in football, you have to kind of be obsessive about football. The boys were winners, really, the boys were winners, so to have a season where you're losing so much, it really hurts. It's very difficult to just switch off from it and go about your normal life, but boys have different ways of trying to do it. I'm not very good at it, I'll be honest. There are times where, after a game, my missus will know just to leave me alone for the day or whatever, just get through it myself and kind of forget about it as much as I can. I'll be just staring at a wall, thinking about things that I could have done differently in the game, all that sort of stuff.

You become a dad this summer, so will that be a good distraction for you moving forward?

Yes, in June, our little daughter comes along, so that will give me plenty to distract myself from football, I'm sure everyone keeps telling me. I'm excited for that and ready for it now.

You've become a leader in the group this season. Does it feel quite strange to be one of the older statesmen in the dressing room?

This is the first season where I probably have to accept the fact that I am one of the older boys.

I've had managers that have told me that I am quite a leader in the changing room and to draw on that more and to try and excel in that area more. I think it's become a natural progression.

I was never quiet or short of confidence or shy when I was younger, and I've moulded that into a bit more of a positive thing. I remember coming through as a young boy and there were always older boys that helped you and older boys that you weren't too fond of. I wanted to be one of the ones that the young boys looked up to and thought he was good for me and helped me at the beginning.

Has it become even more important this season? Because John Egan's been injured, and Chris Basham got injured down at Craven Cottage earlier in the season. And they're two senior players who have a big influence here.

Yes definitely, in the summer that's one of the things that we lost.

A few of the boys that had left, you look at Sharpy [Billy Sharp], Enda Stevens, Jack O'Connell, these boys that are real experienced boys and then obviously we're losing Egan and Basham at the start of the season, which was tough. It kind of fell down a little bit more to the boys that were still there and were still fit. So yes, I think it has increased this season.

Obviously, Bash's injury and Bash coming back into training every day has given the boys a big boost. Seeing him in and around the place, you know how much energy he brings and even when he's not playing, how much of a boost he can give the boys.

Chris Wilder, in charge again now. He signed you here at Sheffield United. Has it been strange him coming back for a second spell or has it felt quite natural because you had that connection from the first time you were here?

Yes, it definitely felt quite natural.

The gaffer has been unbelievable with me. My little brother, about two months ago, got diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, so it's a cancer. He's going through chemotherapy right now.

That's why I shaved my hair off with him. I said when his hair falls out, I'll shave it off with him. But as soon as the gaffer found out, he's been excellent.

Do you need this, or do you need to go see him? Whatever you need, just come and speak to me?

For me, I don't need that. I want to be at football. I need that kind of thing as the distraction.

But having the gaffer there and the things he does for the boys, a lot of people will never see those things. The boys were all buzzing to see him come back. Obviously, everyone had a lot of respect and appreciation for the things he did for us and got us to where we've been.

But for me personally, Chris Wilder, he's been so good for me. The first spell, this spell, every time.

We see you as Oli McBurnie, the footballer, but you just mentioned your brother there. We don't always know what's going on behind the scenes. Has it been really tough?

Of course, it's tough.

It was a real out-of-the-blue thing. My brother's 26, a professional footballer at the time. He just gets a lump in his neck, has a few tests, and all of a sudden, he's got cancer.

But it's not like anything can change for me. I've still got to come into work every day. I've still got to go about my normal day-to-day life.

There are obviously things that people don't get to see. We don't like to always go through stuff all the time.

We don't want to shout about things. It's just one of those things. Being a footballer, you've got to get on with it and do your job the same as everyone else does.

Ten games to go. It's obviously a very difficult situation, but not impossible?

Yes, not impossible. There's always that glimmer of hope if you pick up a few results.

We're not dreamers. We know we've put ourselves in a very difficult situation. But when I speak to the boys about it, there's nothing to lose, really.

We're bottom of the league, so it can't get much worse in terms of that. Go out and play without that pressure and see what happens.

So, we'll keep going because we know strange things can happen in football.

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