Burger: Stoke challenge key to playing in the Premier League one day24 December 2023
Back in March, Wouter Burger was part of the Basel team that missed out on a place in the Europa Conference League final by the narrowest of margins.
Antonin Barak's winner for eventual runners-up Fiorentina would have been gut-wrenching enough on its own - but it was even more so given the fact it came 10 minutes into stoppage time in the second half of extra-time.
The 22-year-old, though, is not one to dwell on what has been. He is mature beyond his years and has his eyes firmly fixed on the here and now: in the summer, he swapped Switzerland for those famous cold nights at the bet365 Stadium.
It goes without saying that, geographically speaking, this move will not go down as one of the most glamorous Burger will ever make.
Yet he knows it will serve him well, particularly in terms of development, as he explains in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports ahead of the Potters' Boxing Day trip to St Andrew's - which is live on Sky Sports Football.
"It was a win-win situation because Stoke wanted to have me and I really wanted to go," he says.
"For me, it was a big opportunity to play in a really strong competition where you can get stronger, better, faster. You have to think quickly in this league, you have to be physically strong.
"I think I can improve a few aspects of my game that it's only possible to improve in England.
"I have goals and I want to one day play in the Premier League - and, in my opinion, it's important to play in the Championship to be ready for that. With the plan from Stoke for me and how competitive this league is, it looked to be the best move."
Burger - labelled a "key asset" by technical director Ricky Martin when he signed in August - feels he was ready to make this next step and it is hard to argue against that, given the experience he already has under his belt.
At Feyenoord, where he started his career, he progressed to the first team and worked under Giovani van Bronckhorst, Jaap Stam, Dick Advocaat and Arne Slot. He notes he only worked with Slot for two months, but is certain he was "one of the best coaches I've had in professional football".
There was also the time spent with former Arsenal and Manchester United striker Robin van Persie, who closed his career where he started it in 2018/19.
"When I was a little bit in between the first team and the academy, I always trained with the first team, but played more of my games in the academy," explains Burger.
"I trained with Van Persie and he was a player who always took time with me to look at videos and gave me advice and little details of the game.
"He shared a lot with me and I still have that in my backpack, I would say, and I can use it whenever I need it. He was a player I could look up to but also gave me really good advice."
Then there was the move to Basel at 20, with the life lessons learned there successfully utilised again in the summer with the move to the Potteries. "I'm more mature now than I was then and I knew what was coming," he adds.
The season has not gone to plan for the Potters. They racked up three straight wins towards the end of October on the way to an eventual five-game unbeaten run, but now they are winless in nine and only four points above the relegation zone.
Needless to say Alex Neil's sacking on December 10 came as little surprise.
Burger is not looking for excuses, instead encouraging action; his side are far from being cut adrift, but he knows they must start picking up wins under new head coach Steven Schumacher, who took over nine days after Neil departed.
"There are a lot of new players - it's really a complete new squad - and that always takes a little bit of time, but we are not at a point where we can say we have to be patient.
"We have to come together as a group; we have to take every game as a final. You never really feel sorry for yourself as a football player because the next game is always there and there is always a new opportunity.
"Every moment you get results is a fresh start. If you come out of a period where you have a little bit of a poor record, it's important to start a positive record as quickly as possible.
"A new manager has come in and I feel there's an energy in the group that is really hungry. We really want to fight for these points and every point we take we see as a point in a good direction. Everything that has happened is in the past and we cannot change it."
Stoke's next five Championship fixtures
- Birmingham (a) - Boxing Day, 5.15pm - Live on Sky Sports
- Watford (a) - December 29, 7.45pm
- Ipswich (h) - New Year's Day, 3pm
- Rotherham (a) - January 13, 3pm
- Birmingham (h) - January 20, 3pm
Away from club football, Burger has gained plenty of experience with the Netherlands from U15 to U21 level, appearing over 50 times for his country since 2015.
He was part of the Netherlands U17 squad that won the 2018 European Championships in England, alongside Arsenal's Jurrien Timber, Liverpool's Ryan Gravenberch and Leeds' Crysensio Summerville.
The quartet are still in touch. "Gravenberch lives quite close and when we play against Leeds, I have a talk with Cry. These are guys I grew up with; I always played with them or against them in academies. I always get surprised by how many Dutch people play in the Championship!
"Timber is one of my best football friends and I really enjoy spending time with him, but also with his twin brother and his lovely family. I have many nice memories with them."
Timber and Gravenberch play regularly for the Netherlands senior team now and Summerville cannot be far off a call-up, given the starring role he has played in Leeds' promotion push so far this term.
Asked if he dreams of making his senior international debut one day Burger answers wisely.
"When it's realistic and getting closer, it's going to be a dream for me.
"I always see everything as step-by-step, so for me it's now way too early to speak about something that is not, in my opinion, close yet.
"I want to become an even better player and play really good football, show everyone how good I am and then one day hopefully come close to the level of playing for the national team."
With the way Burger is taking every new experience in his stride, his journey from here is bound to be one worth following.
Watch Birmingham City vs Stoke City live on Sky Sports Football from 5pm on Boxing Day; kick-off 5.15pm.
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This news item was provided by the SkySports | News website - the original link is: https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11688/13036188/wouter-burger-interview-stoke-city-midfielder-on-why-challenge-at-the-bet365-stadium-will-prepare-him-to-play-in-the-premier-league