Two years ago, Bruce Djite and Nathan Burns were just two ambitious teenage footballers with no professional experience. Signed by Adelaide United as designated youth players, they ended up sharing a flat together in the South Australian city. Fast forward to September 2008, and both have a wealth of professional experience behind them, both have recently moved to ambitious European clubs, and both have made their full international debuts. It has been quite a journey.
Djite, born in the USA to African parents, moved to Australia when he was three years old. A big, bustling striker who made an instant impression when promoted to the Adelaide first team, he was soon attracting interest from overseas. After a prolific 2007/08 season, Djite duly secured a move to Turkish club Genclerbirligi in May, and has already scored a number of goals for his new club in trial games. He made his debut in the Turkcell Super League on 24 August.
At international level, Djite's rise has been meteoric. A member of the U-20 side in 2006, he forced his way into the Olympic reckoning with his early performances for Adelaide, before his glut of goals in the 2007/08 season brought him to the attention of new Australian coach Pim Verbeek. Although he missed out on selection for the Olympic football tournament, Djite made his senior international bow in a friendly against Singapore on 22 March of this year, shortly before his 21st birthday.
In Australia's opening match of the Asian fourth round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, against Uzbekistan this Wednesday, Verbeek is likely to call upon Djite at some stage. He gave the youngster a starting berth in the last game of the previous round, against China, and has been impressed with his recent form. "From what I heard in Turkey last weekend, they are very impressed that a young guy like that, coming from a different country, is adapting quite well to Turkish football," said Verbeek. "He is scoring goals, he is working hard."
With long-serving Socceroo Mark Viduka now entering the twilight of his career, Karlsruhe's Joshua Kennedy is Verbeek's usual first choice for the target-man role. But Djite is not far behind.
It was in an earlier game against Singapore that Djite's former flatmate got his first chance with the senior side, if only as a late substitute. But international caps are not handed out at random, and Nathan Burns' performances at club level had been thoroughly worthy of a national call-up.
A native of the small New South Wales town of Blayney, Burns made an immediate impact on the nascent A-League when he was surprisingly thrust into the Adelaide first team in the 2006/07 season. Working either just behind the main striker or on the left side of midfield, the modest youngster caused opposition defences no end of problems in Adelaide's run to the grand final that year.
Like Djite, Burns has recently moved away from Adelaide. After a series of strong performances in the 2008 AFC Asian Champions League, including a memorable "assist hat-trick" against Vietnamese club Binh Duong in April, Burns earned himself a move to Greek giants AEK Athens. The departure of Brazilian legend Rivaldo from the Greek club in August may mean more opportunities than expected for Burns in the first team.
"I've always wanted that [European] break," said Burns shortly after signing for AEK. ", playing beautiful football."
With Australia's Germany 2006 generation all nearing 30, it is clear that youthful reinforcements will be required for the Socceroos before long. And the most important injection of new blood may come from the former occupants of an Adelaide inner-city apartment.
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