Nathan Burns: Back where he belongs

Nathan Burns probably felt like Christmas came early when he was given the nod for Australia’s 23-man Asian Cup squad.

Burns has been on fire for the Wellington Phoenix this season, scoring his 10 A-League goals in record time and helping to catapult the A-League surprise packets into the top four.

At 26 he is no longer the fresh faced kid who was once touted as the next Harry Kewell.

But the seven times capped Socceroo has been buzzing since earning his place at the  biggest football tournament ever seen in Australia.

“It’s pretty massive for myself, I’ve been pretty excited the last couple of days,” Burns said, admitting he had no idea whether he would make the cut for Asia's January showpiece.

“I didn’t really have a clue to be honest, I was just waiting for the team to be announced. I haven’t spoken to Ange I just got the call.

“Obviously the World Cup is the biggest tournament in the world but having the first Asian Cup on home soil is going to be huge.

“It’s massive for the game here and obviously it’s going to be great to be a part of.”

Burns’ recall to the side after a four year absence will reunite the player with Socceroos teammates and his former  youth international coach and now Australia boss, Ange Postecoglou.

“It’s going to be great playing among my old friends,” Burns said. “Just being around camp among the boys is a feeling you can’t really explain.

“It will be great to be there, especially now, with most of my friends I grew up with when we were competing in the under 17’s under 20’s level.

“To be in the squad is probably the highest point you can reach. When I made my debut (seven years ago) I was young and a lot was happing at that stage.

“I’ve had the four years away from the national team and it’s given me time to work hard to get back into the team. And obviously I’m taking it a lot more seriously now because I’m more grown up.

“It’s not quite that easy to break into the squad so to get another chance is obviously going to be huge and hopefully I can take full advantage of it.”

But the player says recent talk that he may start the first game of the Asian Cup against Kuwait is premature.

 “To be honest I’ll just see what happens,” he said.

“Obviously you’ve got goals to play, goals to score, but we’ll just see what happens. It’s going to feel new for me being in the team again, and I’ll just take it as it comes when I get into camp.”

His blistering A-League form this season has been the catalyst  for the former Adelaide United and Newcastle Jet breaking back into the national team squad.

Wellington coach Ernie Merrick has also got Burns playing more centrally and, even with 10 goals in 11 games, the striker says he’s still learning how to play in his new position.

“I think I’m still adapting to the role,” he said.

“If the coach has a certain style then you’ve just got to learn to adjust to that style of play otherwise you won’t last too long at many clubs.

“I’ve always been kind of a winger or a number 10 type of player. The game is slightly evolving and changing every season.

“Last season at the Jets I was playing with (Adam ) Taggart who was golden boot and at the high point (of the attack).

“It’s more how the team is playing. If someone comes in January as a striker then who knows, maybe I’ll go back in behind him and play as a number 10. You need to adjust.”

Beating Sydney FC last weekend was a big scalp for Wellington and with six wins, one draw and four losses  this campaign, it’s no surprise to hear Burns say the Phoenix aren’t interested in playing for draws.

“The thing with our team is we’re always going for the win,” said Burns who chipped in with a brace against the Sky Blues.

“If we go a couple of goals up we are going to keep on coming and we’re not going to sit, and wonder and wonder about what’s going to happen.

“When we go out there we’re going g to attack and if we lose we lose but we’re going to give it a go.”

While Wellington’s surge into the top four has some pundits talking end of season expectations, Burns says the team is concentrating on getting it right on the pitch.

“We’re not really looking at the ladder so much, we are more focusing on how we are playing and how we are building,” he said.

“If we keep playing types of games that we are playing – possession and dominating games – we are going to be towards the top of the table.

“And if we play well and lose then we’re not really that disappointed because it’s still early in the season. We’ve just got to keep playing good football and hopefully it all comes together for the finals.”

Wellington return home and have the opportunity to beat both Sydney teams on the bounce this Sunday when they take on the Western Sydney Wanderers who are propping up the table.

We want to keep them down the bottom obviously,” Burns said of the Asian champions.

“We just need to keep the ball and try and dominate that game and hopefully we can continue our good run of form at home this year and take the three points.

“We’ll probably be favourites to win the game but they have the potential to fire at any time and I think people are just waiting for it to happen.

“To be honest it’s just around the corner and hopefully it’s not against us.”

Con Stamocostas is an Australian football writer. Check out Episode Three of his latest A- League Football Snobcast with co-host Rob Toddler.