Perth Glory captain Jacob Burns is set to make his 100th appearance in the A-League this Saturday against the Central Coast Mariners at nib Stadium. After 5 seasons in the West, the 35-year-old reflects on the old NSL days, competing in the UEFA Champions League with Leeds United, his European adventure and the Hyundai A-League.
Burns was born on the 21st of April, 1978 in Sydney, and made his name playing for NSL outfits Sydney United and Parramatta Power until his £250,000 transfer to then English Premier League powerhouse Leeds United in 2000 after impressing scouts in the Olyroos’ lead up matches to the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
Burns says the Olyroos build up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics went over three years and was full of intense training sessions and matches which left the defensive midfielder in the fittest shape of his career. He was originally destined for Salamanca in La Liga before the deal went cold after the Coach and President left which allowed Leeds United to come in and snap him up.
QUESTION 1: In 1999 you were playing at Perth Oval, Parramatta Stadium, North Sydney Oval. Come 2000, you’re at the Nou Camp, the San Siro, Santiago Bernabeu. Can you give us a bit of an insight into your time at Leeds during that time?
“To play against a club you used to watch on TV and could only dream of playing against was so surreal.”
“I was pretty lucky because it was really intense with the Olympic team lead into the Olympics. We were on the Gold Coast basically training six days a week. I’ve never felt fitter in my life so when I arrived I was in tip-top condition and ready to go. I could not have been in a better physical condition when I arrived.”
“I was pretty lucky to be honest … I was well and truly down the pecking order but I was pretty fortunate there were a couple of injuries at the time and so I got given my chance a couple of weeks after signing.”
QUESTION 2: Leeds managed to finish 2nd in the group behind AC Milan, knocking out FC Barcelona and Turkish side Besiktas in the process. What can you remember about your EUFA Champions League experiences?
“It was quite an eye opener to the atmosphere and the religion and fearless support for the clubs over there. We were under the stadium (against Besiktas) and it felt like the whole thing was going to come down.”
“They were yelling obscenities. I was looking around the ground and they were making a whole lot of daunting gestures.”
Leeds United went on to face Real Madrid in the second group stage of the competition and the 22-year-old Jacob Burns played 75 minutes in a 2-0 defeat to Los Blancos at Elland Road, with a line-up featuring Raul Gonzalez, Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo, and Iker Casillas. Burns also played a full game against Pavel Nedved and Dejan Stankovic in a 3-3 draw to S.S. Lazio at Elland Road.
QUESTION 3: What is the number one thing you remember about playing world class superstars like Casillas, Figo, Raul, Rivaldo, Xavi, Roberto Carlos and Pavel Nedved in Europe?
“I remember my role against Real Madrid was to try and cancel out Luis Figo who was a childhood idol of mine and to do a job on him and get his jersey after the game was amazing.”
“We got subbed off at the same time in the 75th. He didn’t score or setup any goals so my job was done and it was then we were walking down the tunnel when I sheepishly asked for his jersey“
QUESTION 4: What are your other memories of your time at Leeds?
“We were a very young Leeds team and I think all of us thought geez we are going to be in and out of this competition in no time but we somehow managed to turn over results. We were in particular strong at home and we just keep getting through each group and then bigger teams would come and before we knew it we were playing Valencia in the Champions League Semi Final.”
“It was a very surreal time. We were a team trying to establish ourselves as a top team in the EPL. The board and the owners weren’t do anything by halves so we were flying private jets, we would ring up – what does Man U use? Well we want to use it. What Hotel do they stay at well we want to stay at that hotel. If there was a 7 star hotel – we were in it.”
“Coming from pretty humble surroundings in the old NSL days – it was one end to the other.”
Burns’ started to run into a few injuries after that but fell in love with Yorkshire which led to an opportunity in neighbouring Barnsley that allowed him to start playing regular football again.
QUESTION 5: Why the move to Barnsley?
“It meant from a family point of few I didn’t have to move. Basically I was going 20 mins north of the freeway instead of 20 mins south of the freeway.”
“Yorkshire is full of very passionate football supporters there and I really enjoyed my time there.”
“I got the armband there and it was a wonderful time to be playing regularly. When you’re at a big club like Leeds United at the time and you have a big squad of 40 players, a lot of young guys can get lost in the system.”
QUESTION 6: You followed your manager and ex-Chelsea player Dan Petrescu to Polish Champions Wisla Krakow in 2006 and Unirea Urziceni in 2008. What was behind the decision to follow Petrescu over to Europe?
“I respect his (Petrescu) ideas of the game and his philosophy of the game a great deal but I also moved over to Wisła Kraków in Poland before the 06 World Cup because there was an opportunity under Guus Hiddink. He wanted everyone to play top tier football and I knew if I went to Wisła Kraków I would be back playing Champions League.”
“I had dreams and aspirations of making the World Cup as you do, but also we quite fancied a change. We wanted to experience why you’re away from Australia and experience another culture.”
“I flew over there for a weekend and fell in love with the city but it was a little bit of too little too late.”
After 10 years abroad, Jacob Burns decided to return home for family and lifestyle reasons. A number of Hyundai A-League clubs came knocking but it was David Mitchell who secured the defensive midfielders signature.
QUESTION 7: What attracted you to Perth Glory?
“I kind of did the full circle. Dave Mitchell was a teammate of mine when he first came back to Australia back in the old Sydney Croatia days.”
“It seemed quite fitting that after 10 seasons away that he was the manager back at Perth and signed me for a three year deal with the Glory.”
“I was really sold on the possibilities of what could happen in coming back to Perth and what I could give back to the game.”
Burns immediately impressed in purple, endearing himself to fans with his high work rate and take-no-prisoners attitude on field. In his first season at Perth, Burns scored a brace in a 3-2 away win against Adelaide and led the club to their first finals appearance in the A-League era. After a 1-1 draw after extra time to Wellington Phoenix, the Glory agonisingly lost on penalties in New Zealand.
Jacob Burn’s second season at Perth Glory was less successful, with Glory finishing only above outgoing North Queensland Fury in 10th place however they responded in season 3 with their most successful Hyundai A-League season to date, coming from second-last on the table at Christmas to 3rd place and a Grand Final appearance against Brisbane Roar at Suncorp Stadium.
QUESTION 9: What were your thoughts after missing out on the finals in 2009/10 and then rebounding in 2010/11?
“During that season, we won our first five games and were flying at the start then we had a few losses in a row and then there was a huge change. Mitchell stepped down as a coach, we lost Kenny Lowe as an Assistant Coach and another one of our Assistant Coaches, Ian Ferguson, got promoted to the First Team Coach.”
“I know that happens in football but in A-League when you only have 27 games, you’re chasing, you’re behind the eight-ball.”
“We went from three coaches down to one coach and we went from three poor results to seven or eight and there’s no way back from that in the A-League.”
“I didn’t take it well. I’m a winner and I hold a lot of responsibility and have a lot of pride in the way we go as a team and to have a poor second season didn’t sit well with me but the response was the next year making the finals and nearly winning the grand final so it proved a lot of people wrong.”
QUESTION 10: The 2010/11 Season also saw the arrival of your current midfield partner – Steve McGarry. How important has Steven been for the Glory?
“Stevie had a great career in Scotland and you could see it from day one when he came – great feet, great vision. I’ve got lot of time for Stevey both on and off the field. He’s a tremendous guy and he’s great to have around.”
“I’m probably one of those defensive midfielders who likes to win the ball and get in quite strong and release players like Stevey who can hurt teams moving forward.”
“I’ve got lot of time for Stevey both on and off the field. He’s a tremendous guy and he’s great to have around.”
QUESTION 11: With all the teams operating under a salary cap and the league becoming more competitive and even each year, it seems Alistair, Gareth and Scott are really trying to find the right mix of youth and experienced players to create something sustainable at Perth Glory. What do you think?
“Absolutely and I think that’s very important.“
“I’ve been there before. I’ve been a young player and I’ve benefited from some very, very talented senior experienced players around me that I was able to learn my craft from. To be guided, to be helped all the way through and they’ve created that here.”
“There‘s no ifs or buts about it, you need a very strong spine to the team.”
“The thing about young guys, and I know because I’ve been there before, you get a 9/10 one week and the next time they replicate that might be some weeks away, so it’s merging, trying to balance that and trying to get everyone to that level and bringing that level up.”
“The experience we have now in the dressing room with the players of the calibre of your Gallas’, your Thwaites, your Pantas, your McGarry’s, myself, Smeltzy, these kind of guys to raise the bar, to lift the level of expectation, day in-day out, can only help us and help these guys come of age quicker and to be able to be able to consistent in their level and their ability moving forward as a club.”
“At the same time, we know when the time comes to leave the game, it’s going to be in a better position it was when we started and that’s a huge responsibility on our behalf as senior players so I think we’re moving in the right direction and it’s really satisfying for me as a senior player to be involved in that.”
QUESTION 12: What now for Jacob Burns and Perth Glory?
“First and foremost I’m a footballer but I wanted to come back and give something back to the game. For me, I’m still driven because we’ve gone close and I feel now we’re now being consistent in what we’re trying to achieve but to be able to lift that trophy would be the most satisfying thing for me.”
“I’m heavily driven by that still. You get to my age now as a player and the constant question is are you going to keep playing and I don’t entertain the thought because unless, touch wood, injuries and other things can happen, but if you’re passionate about your craft, if your driven heavily by wanting to be successful and the club to be successful, it’s just a number to me.“
“At 35, I feel as good as I ever have and some of my idols of the game at the age of 38 are still playing. Look at Del Piero still ripping the league apart, look at Gallas coming on the other day coming on and still looking comfortable. So for me, I’m still very much driven to put some silverware in the cupboard.”