EXCLUSIVE: Nathan Burns says the A-League has chosen a perfect venue for him to open the season when the on-loan striker’s Newcastle Jets meet Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium.
The October 10 clash kicks off season nine of the A-League and the 25-year-old - on loan from K-League side Incheon United - has fond memories of the Moore Park ground.
Firstly for Adelaide United and then for his former club AEK Athens when Burns famously stole the show as a late substitute.
“Playing there for AEK was a massive opportunity for me because I was still trying to break into the first team at the club,” he told au.fourfourtwo.com.
"I had to kind of cement a spot so I really had to prove myself."
In the 2010 Sydney Football Festival, and 10 minutes after coming on against Glasgow Rangers, Burns powered home a 73rd minute header for the Greeks.
His header from a Nikos Karabelas cross confirmed a 1-0 win in the third and final game and the trophy for AEK, much to the delight of their many fans inside the ground.
The four team tournament held in July of that year at Allianz Stadium also included Sydney FC and Blackburn Rovers.
Burns also played a part in both goals in AEK’s 2-1 win over the English club.
And earlier in his career, the seven times capped Socceroo hit the net for the Reds in the A-League on the same ground.
After earlier efforts on goal, Burns snatched an equaliser against Juninho’s Sky Blues in 2007. Reds striker Bruce Djite took advantage of poor defending and flicked the ball across to Burns who headed home to cap an entertaining 2-2 draw.
“Every time I got to Allianz Stadium I tend to score or have a really good game. Pretty excited to go back there, it's one of my favourite stadiums,” said Burns.
Burns scored 12 goals in 37 A-League and ACL appearances for Adelaide before being signed by Greek giant in 2008. There he played alongside Rivaldo and was part of a massive club in football mad Greece. Then the club imploded.
“It was great, it was perfect. It was obviously a roller coaster. The first year I learnt a lot, big players like Rivaldo being there and then to win the league, then coming back from being on loan for Corfu, winning promotion with them, and then playing 30 games for AEK and playing Europa league. It was perfect.
“It was just the fourth year they just went bust. Unfortunately the country went bust…”
Burns has noticed changes in the A-League since he left.
“The A-League looks like it's stepped up a notch,” Burns said. “Coming back I can see the tempo of training seems to be a lot quicker than when I was there five years ago.
“Just a lot more touch football and not as much time on the ball. The standard has increased. I can tell a lot of the boys are stronger physically, they're faster.”
Burns foresees Newcastle as being the neutral’s favourites for this season.
“Because everyone loves a young team, they got a lot of flair and they can really let rip this year," he said. "I hope they can stand up and even take control.
“If we can do that then I think a lot of people would want to watch us play because we do have quality all around the pitch.
“I can play in behind Emile [Heskey], I can play as a winger, we have Taggs [Adam Taggart] and Hooley [Andrew Hoole] there so there are a few formations we could actually play, so it could depend on our opponents and we could even change it up.
“We'll work on a few things during pre-season and see which one's best come the first game.”
Burns will remain with the Jets until January 11, 2014 at which time he is scheduled to return to Incheon, though that is out of his hands.
The goal is to play regularly and have a strong season in either the A-League or K-League.
Form is the key to any Socceroo ambitions, said Burns. If he’s doing well, his World Cup dream could still come true.
And with former England World Cup player Emile Heskey there to help him in Newcastle, Burns is feeling good about the season – not just the season opener in the Harbour City.
“He brings so much to the team,” Burns said of Heskey. “On the field, off the field, even around the city, it's great to have him here. Playing off him will be an honour.
“Playing at his level you can learn a lot from him - even if you're just talking to the guy you can learn.”