Burns can 'turn a game in a flash' and has been compared to a Euro 2020 star... but where will Cook play him?
- Credit: Archant
Wes Burns was the first new face through the Portman Road doors at the start of what is sure to be a busy summer.
At 26, Town have acquired an upwardly mobile player with his best years ahead of him, all while stealing the best player of a divisional rival.
Burns could have become a free agent this summer, had Fleetwood not exercised an option in his deal to extend it by 12 months, but this move is understood to have triggered a hike in wages which looked unsustainable for a Fleetwood side likely to be cutting its budget this summer in the wake of the Covid crisis.
That meant a departure was always likely but, with Fleetwood now looking for a fee, interest from elsewhere drifted away as Championship side Coventry opted out and left Ipswich in pole position to strike quickly.
There were discussions about whether Janoi Donacien, who enjoyed a successful time on loan at Fleetwood last season, could be used as a makeweight in any potential deal but, ultimately, the Blues ended up paying a flat, officially undisclosed, fee, understood to be in the low six-figure region.
Burns is a player known to Town CEO Mark Ashton, given he came through the ranks at Bristol City during the new Ipswich supremo’s time there, but his time at Ashton Gate saw him make just six starts out of a total of 53 appearances (five goals) and spend time on loan at five different clubs.
One of those teams was Oxford United, where Ashton was working at the time, while his spells with Forest Green, Cheltenham, Fleetwood and then Aberdeen were formative.
- 1 WATCH: England fan pulled out of water at Ipswich marina
- 2 Opening date confirmed for new indoor market in Ipswich's former Peacocks
- 3 'Happy-go-lucky' mum died in Ipswich days after news of second lockdown
- 4 Man and woman charged in connection with the theft of 85 dogs
- 5 'Stressed' bride forced to cut guest list just over a week before wedding
- 6 Traffic at standstill on A12 between Ipswich and Colchester
- 7 Drug courier delivering cocaine in Ipswich is jailed
- 8 Kesgrave shooting: Teenager 'unintentionally' pulled trigger, defence says
- 9 Flooding off the A14 causes emergency road closure in Ipswich
- 10 £1.4m home with swimming pool and tennis court for sale on edge of Ipswich
But upon his release from Ashton Gate, then City boss Lee Johnson spoke of Burns needing to ‘find his own identity’ and he’s done exactly that during his time at Fleetwood.
He moved there permanently in January 2017 and, during his four-and-a-half years at Highbury, netted 23 goals in 176 games as he emerged as one of his club’s best players and a top-end League One performer.
So... what kind of player are Town getting?
Well, here’s how Joey Barton, his manager at Fleetwood, described his right-sider when asked about Burns’ attributes.
“He has everything needed to be an elite level player if he pieces it all together,” he said.
“Wes has the ability to turn a game with a flash of absolute brilliance.
“He shows everything; great first touch, speed, turning circle, then the awareness to find that bit of calmness and composure to pick a pass and get in the position.
“I think the one thing he has been guilty of in the past is not seeing that support player coming with him.
“He has just got that real pace that scares the hell out of defenders and pushes them back five yards.”
All sounds promising, doesn’t it?
Ipswich got a taste of what he’s all about in their two games with Fleetwood last season.
Fresh in the memory is the goal he scored at Portman Road on the final day of the campaign, knocking the ball past Mark McGuinness, chasing his own through-ball as he burned the Arsenal loanee for pace before slamming home.
But it was at Highbury where he gave a real masterclass, providing the starting point for most Fleetwood attacks as he gave Myles Kenlock a torrid time before the left-back was hooked with 30 minutes still to play. Stephen Ward did a little better but Burns had already proved his point.
Cook clearly liked what he saw and here we are.
The big question now is where will Cook use his new Welsh Flyer.
We know he’s versatile and can operate anywhere down the right flank, while Barton previously suggested he could also perform comfortably as a central midfielder. He started as a striker, too.
His versatility could be a real asset, given Cook is looking to dramatically reduce the size of his squad, and Burns himself seems happy wherever he’s played.
It was at Fleetwood where his versatility really became apparent, starting his career at Highbury as a winger before slipping back to right-back and then moving forward slightly to a wing-back role.
“I think, going forward, if you were to put a gun to my head and say ‘what position do you want to play?’ I’d probably favour that right wing-back, right-back role,” Burns said, after making the positional move back in 2019.
“It gives me a lot of freedom when we have got the ball to pick it up from deep and drive at players which is what I like to do.
“I think, going forward, for me right-back or right wing-back is ideal. I think that is where I will play.”
He got his wish for the majority of his Fleetwood career from that point on but he was still able to operate in a more advanced role when required, as demonstrated in a goal-scoring display to help his side win at Crewe last season.
“We put Wes back in the front line to try to use his pace behind their back line. We thought they would be undone by his pace,” Barton’s former Fleetwood assistant, Clint Hill, said.
“Wes has done fantastic for us. He’s played a lot at right wing-back and has done a job for the team when players have been injured or suspended.
"This was an occasion to put him up and he’s rewarded us with a goal and a good performance, so we’re pleased for him.
“We know he can do a job wherever we put him, which is great."
There have been lofty comparisons, too.
“He reminded me a lot of Kyle Walker in many regards,” Barton has previously said, following an excellent display.
“Could I see him playing at the highest level in that position? If he carries on playing like that, then why not?
“He has everything you could possibly look for from a recruiting stand point: size, athleticism, great feet and he clearly showed he can defend."
Where does he fit in at Town?
Versatility is all well and good, but Burns will want to start games and make a spot in the side his own.
Kane Vincent-Young is one of the few players at Town who manager Cook is sure he wants to keep at round and, fingers crossed, if the wing-back remains fit he will surely be a lock to start at right-back.
The former Colchester man spent most of his time at the Essex club operating as a left-back, though, so could he and Burns form a tantalising, attacking, full-back pairing that way? Cook has previously said he wants his full-backs to essentially operate as midfielders, which would suit Burns down to the ground.
Playing as an out-and-out winger will be a real possibility, too, given the Blues are extremely light in that area. Gwion Edwards is still mulling over a contract offer and both Armando Dobra and Jack Lankester are among those who could potentially move this summer, meaning the wide areas are one of many Cook will rebuild in the coming weeks.
Who else comes through the door prior to the start of the season will offer a real clue as to where Burns is likely to fit in.
Can he handle it?
It was clear some members of the Ipswich squad struggled to handle the pressure on their shoulders, when asked to guide a big club out of League One during the course of the last two seasons.
So signing players capable of handling the burden of pressure is going to be key this summer.
“We’re mounting a serious push for the play-offs, maybe even automatic promotion,” Burns said, during a 2019/20 season in which Fleetwood made the League One play-offs.
“The pressure comes each Saturday, with us needing to win and wanting to win. We know we can’t win every game but we’ll definitely try our best.
“There’s definitely a different pressure this year. We’d rather have promotion pressure than relegation pressure.”
Burns’ move to a club with, all due respect to a Fleetwood team who have punched above their weight, greater exposure and higher reputation will likely help the Welshman when it comes to his international ambitions.
He has 18 caps for his country at Under 21 level and was called into the initial senior squad for Euro 2016, before ultimately missing out on the final squad ahead of the tournament in France.
There is no reason why, if he’s performing well in a team in the thick of the League One promotion race, he can’t force his way back into the international reckoning and earn his first cap.