The thrilling finale to last season’s English Premier League title race captivated millions of football fans across the world.
For those in awkward time zones, such as Australia, it meant a sleepless night and some serious fatigue at work the following day.
It was perhaps not the best time to be having a major operation carried out by a football-loving doctor, but that’s exactly what happened to fringe Australia midfielder Nathan Burns.
“Thankfully it wasn’t actually the doctor but rather the anesthetist, the guy who knocks you out," Burns recalled. "The last thing I remember before I went under was talking football with them.
"We were talking about the Manchester City match the night before and the doctor actually stayed up all night watching the game. We were talking football and then I woke up later on all cut up.”
Happily, with everything in its correct place including some major repairs to the damaged meniscus in his knee that had all but obliterated Burns’ start at K-League club Incheon.
After a mixed four-year stint in Greece and with that nation’s financial troubles eating deeply into football, the 24 year-old had decided it was time for a fresh start when Korea came calling. Barely a fortnight into pre-season things started to fall apart.
“It was just one of those things. I was at training and went to shoot and landed on my knee awkwardly and just felt a pop and knew it wasn’t a good sign,” Burns said.
The initial diagnosis was a crack in the meniscus that the club thought it could manage but after a month and a half of strength work Burns got through only three league matches upon his return and knew that an operation was the only option.
With the help of the football-fatigued anesthetist that took place in Sydney in May and after six weeks in Australia and a further five in Korea completing the rehab program Burns is finally ready to return to action.
“Definitely this month I’ll be back playing. I’m back training now, my knee’s feeling a lot better but it was just a tough period because I came to Korea looking to play a full season but sometimes things don’t pan out like you want them to," he said.
"I’m just more disappointed that I didn’t get a full season in but there’s 14 more games and I can still make a good year of it.”
It also allows him to show the club just what he’s capable of. With a foreign player quota in the K-League, expectation is always high on visa players and Burns claims he felt the pressure of not being able to contribute as Incheon slid to a disappointing ninth placed finish that saw it miss the championship playoffs.
“I didn’t get anything directly from the board or the club but there’s definitely a lot of pressure on the foreign players and I felt it," Burns said. "You don’t get that respect from your coaches and teammates until you prove yourself and being injured so early never really gave me the chance to show my qualities so I did feel the pressure to maybe continue playing injured and play for the coach.”
Meeting the player who hails from Blayney in NSW in the eerily quiet new area of Incheon, surrounded by freshly-built skyscrapers yet to open for business, I was expecting to find Burns not quite at ease with his new surroundings. On the contrary, it was clear he’s settled quickly into life in Korea’s third most populous city.
“I actually quite enjoy living in Korea, it’s one of my favourite places I’ve been," Burns said. "Greece was good, beautiful scenery and lifestyle but everything was unorganised, where Korea’s much more organised and like Australia where everything is run by the minute.
“The respect also is like nothing I’ve ever seen and I really admire that.
"The senior players and the coaches are respected and there’s no attitudes or egos in the team. Everyone’s got their place and they know where they stand and if you’ve got a good attitude then you’ve got a good team.
"It was a big change coming from Europe where there’s a lot of major egos in football.”
It was also a big change from his chaotic departure from Greece. AEK, one of the country’s most storied clubs, is still paying installments on the six-months of unpaid wages it owes Burns.
That was a large part of the decision to leave Greece and after turning down offers from several A-League clubs including Newcastle, Sydney and Adelaide, he claims his clear preference was to move to north-Asia.
“I was trying to push for Japan or Korea because at time of the year it was better with those leagues just starting their seasons," Burns said.
"I didn’t play much in the past six months in Greece and wanted to go to a league where I could do a full pre-season and then a 40-match season.
"I was really happy to sign this three-year deal and I’m really excited to come to Korea and play but obviously I didn’t get off to the best start.”
But what of those who claim that Asia is a step backwards for Burns, having played in Europe and made more than half a dozen appearances in the UEFA Europa League?
“You might look at it like Europe’s the highest level of football but the Korean and the Asian market is getting so much better," Burns said. "You only have to see the Olympics to see the level in Japan and Korea.
"They finished third and fourth and that’s saying something isn’t it? For the future especially, I’ve been watching the young players in particular and they’re going to be really good come the next few World Cups.
“What the Koreans bring to the game is a real work-ethic.
"They just will not stop chasing the ball, their engines are amazing. It’s a physical battle, they’re so sharp, they run the whole 90 minutes so it’s not easy to come here and think you’re going to walk all over someone.
"Even if you’ve got the skills to beat a guy, if you beat him he’ll chase you and you have to beat him again and that’s kind of the philosophy.”
After last being involved in the national setup at the 2011 Asian Cup, where he featured twice as Australia lost in the final, Burns is hopeful that his imminent return to league action will help re-ignite his Socceroos prospects, particularly with the qualifiers for the EAFF Championships in December likely to feature predominantly Australia and Asia-based players.
“To get called up for the Socceroos is the ultimate and the good thing about Australia being in Asia it that the opportunities are there but first thing’s first is getting myself right, playing for my club and then the better you do for your club the more you can help your country out," Burns said. "Holger always seems to pick players that are in form so if I’m in good form then I could go back to the Socceroos.”
And maybe prompt another couple of late night viewings from the football-loving anaesthetist.
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