The 25 Best Players in the Championship - as voted for by you: Part 6 of 25
Birmingham City have had to endure an unusually tricky start to their Championship campaign following relegation from the Premier League, spending several weeks playing in the Europa League on Thursday nights and returning to league duty on Sundays. That they have remained competitive in both competitions has been due in part to a unusually tricky winger who made the switch from Cardiff in the summer. Joe Harrison explains.
Chris Burke (Birmingham City)
There are few spectacles in British football that excite fans as much as a traditional winger. The sight of a crowd rising as one with excitement as a player twists, turns, jinks and attempts to evade and bamboozle their marker seemed to become a staple of the game since legendary figures like Matthews and Finney became so associated with it. These days that sort of player is becoming rarer, as creative playmakers are deployed on the wing to drift inside, or wingers are “inverted” to enable them to come in and shoot. What Chris Burke proves is that the traditional winger still has an important role to play in modern tactics and, despite being relatively unsung, he has become one of the Championship’s most consistent and dependable threats.
Burke began his career at Rangers and though many had high hopes for him – particularly when he scored on his debut in 2002 – his time at Ibrox was blighted by injury, restricting him to fewer than 100 league appearances in his six years with the Glaswegians. After failing to establish himself in the Rangers squad following a return from injury, Burke moved on a free transfer to Cardiff City in January 2009 when a move to Birmingham fell through, before making his debut against the Blues that month. Burke went on to become a first team regular and made more than 100 appearances for the Bluebirds in two and a half seasons but his time in South Wales was marked by disappointment – first by a late-season collapse resulting in missing out on the play-offs by a single goal; then by two consecutive play-off defeats. After failing to agree a new contract this summer, Burke finally did move to Birmingham, and has quickly established himself as an important member of the side.
At every club for whom he has played, Burke has been a popular player amongst fans due to his exciting attacking play but has also won friends through his work-rate and constant effort for the cause. The fact that Burke was almost always in the first team line-up during his time at Cardiff is praise in itself, having been competing for a spot with the likes of Bothroyd, Chopra, Whittingham and Bellamy. Despite his team-mates often hogging the limelight, Burke was rarely out of the team. He offered something a little different to the other threats and this was always appreciated by his manager Jones, who once described him as “a livewire and an integral part of what we do.”
Cardiff’s second successive play-off defeat saw the team largely broken up with an out-of-contract Burke one of those eyeing a new challenge, eventually signing for Birmingham City. Despite being initially signed by the soon-to-depart Alex McLeish, Burke has been able to establish himself quickly in Chris Hughton’s side, as the League Cup holders look to mount a promotion challenge whilst having a successful Europa League campaign. He has been able to make a quick impression at St Andrews, having already matched last season’s total of 5 league goals. Blues fan Kev Ball, of Joys and Sorrows, is suitably impressed with the Scot’s impact, saying that Burke “has bought a creativity that we were lacking. He has genuine pace, takes players on and has a good cross.”
Due to the games in hand brought about by their European commitments, Birmingham are currently lurking in what could prove to be a deceptively low position. If they can gain momentum and the squad can take the strain of competing on different fronts, there is a feeling they could make a move towards the upper echelons of the division, doing so whilst almost slipping under the radar. If Burke continues his current form, he will undoubtedly be a vital part of any march up the table and in doing so may just add to his two Scottish caps – or perhaps finally reach the Premier League after a succession of near misses.
Who else did you vote as one of the 25 best players in the Championship? Read about the rest so far here.