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Oct 10, 2007

Adelaide's Batman and Robin

One of them has an exotic African background, was born in the United States and once had trials in the Bundesliga. The other comes from a small farming town west of Sydney, is a keen Arsenal supporter but has been compared to Liverpool's Harry Kewell. Bruce Djite and Nathan Burns may seem like football's odd couple but they're forming a handy strike partnership for both Adelaide United and Australia's under-23 team, the Olyroos. And the 20-year-old Djite and 19-year-old Burns have realistic ambitions of furthering their careers in Europe. They first met at a state training scheme five years ago and noticed that their different attributes - Djite is big and strong while Burns is elusive, quick and a good passer - complemented each other. After playing together in various junior teams, they came together in Sydney's A-League at ambitious Adelaide United in the 2006-2007 season. They helped the Reds to last season's Grand Final - losing to Melbourne Victory - and through a first foray into Asia in the AFC Champions League. And this season, the rookie strikers have guided Adelaide United to a solid start: they're fourth with just one defeat in seven matches. Djite is the A-League's joint top-scorer and Burns has won more accolades for his eye-catching displays. In round 6, Djite scored both Adelaide United's goals as they handed high-flying Central Coast Mariners their first defeat of the season. Burns set up the opener after 19 minutes with an exquisite cross and earlier had produced a 'Johan Cruyff turn' to dazzle the crowd at Adelaide's Hindmarsh Stadium. Djite's progress has been delayed by ligament damage to his right ankle - suffered in round 7 at Perth Glory - which is likely to rule him out for up to four weeks. But it seems only a matter of time before both youngsters are on their way to Europe. At the end of last year, Djite had trials with Werder Bremen while Burns has been linked to Aston Villa, with a possible move in January. As well as being compared to Harry Kewell, Burns has the same manager - the controversial Bernie Mandic. And Burns got the chance to play with Kewell when he won his first senior cap - coming on as a substitute - in the Socceroos' 3-0 victory over Singapore in an Asian Cup warm-up in June. 'Nathan and Bruce have a good chance of making it in Europe,' one of their recent former coaches told Soccernet. 'Nathan is one of the most exciting players to come out of Australia but needs to improve his heading and sometimes tries to take on defenders too much. But his work ethic and attitude are excellent. 'Bruce is direct and very strong and brings other people into the game but has to work more on his first touch and control.' Djite arrived in Australia as a three-year-old from the United States. His father - a professor at the University of Western Sydney - is from the Ivory Coast while his mother was born in Togo. He has chosen to play for the Socceroos even though he's eligible to represent four different nations. And with the international futures of veterans Mark Viduka and John Aloisi uncertain, Djite and Burns - along with Celtic's Scott McDonald and FC Nuremburg's Josh Kennedy - could be at the forefront of Australia's 2010 World Cup campaign. The two youngsters spoke to Soccernet about their Socceroo ambitions, their A-League experience and their dreams of playing in Europe.


Q: Bruce and Nathan, welcome to Soccernet. Despite your diverse backgrounds, you've become quite a strike force for both Adelaide United in the A-League and the Olyroos. When did your partnership first begin and how do your different skills complement each other? Bruce: At the NSW Institute Of Sport at the age of 15. Burnsy is small and quick, and I am big and strong. Nathan: Same place but I was 14. Bruce has got strength which I don't have, but I have more agility. Q: How has the influence of former Socceroos strikers Aurelio Vidmar and John Kosmina - coaches present and past at Adelaide United - impacted on your development? Bruce: Kossie gave me the opportunity and brought me to Adelaide United and because he played a similar position to me as a target man he was able to teach me a lot. Viddie has spent a lot of time with me working on my finishing and timing of my runs and that has helped me a lot in scoring goals. Nathan: Viddie is a modern coach with many new school ideas and he has helped me a lot in developing my game. Kossie originally got me down here and gave me the opportunity which we are both very grateful for. Q: A handful of international defenders have returned to the A-League of late - how have you enjoyed the challenge of facing up to the likes of Craig Moore, Tony Vidmar and Tony Popovic? Bruce: I have so much respect for these players and what they've achieved in their careers but when I'm on the field and come up against them I look forward to facing them and challenging myself against some of the best defenders Australia has produced. Nathan: Yes, it's a good challenge. They've played at the highest level and because they have played in such big leagues as a young player it is exciting to come up against the likes of such great experienced players. Q: Nathan, you were capped for the Socceroos in a pre-Asian Cup friendly against Singapore in June. How was that experience and what do you make of the comparisons with Harry Kewell? What an honour it was to play for my country at that level at such a young age, and alongside so many of my childhood heroes: these guys I watched and respected my whole childhood. I take the comparison as a compliment but there is only one Harry Kewell and I've still got a long way to go to achieve anything that he's achieved throughout his career. Q: Bruce, you could have played for Togo or the Ivory Coast - or even the USA which is where you were born. Why did you choose to represent Australia and who's your role model as a striker? I was selected to play for Australia and I was not asked by any of the other countries to represent them. Therefore I have played and been very honoured to represent my country at various levels. As a striker I have two role models: Mark Viduka of Newcastle United and Didier Drogba from Chelsea Q: How did the success of the Socceroos at Germany 2006 affect your long-term career goals and is making the squad for the 2010 World Cup qualifiers a realistic ambition for you both? Bruce: The World Cup success of the Socceroos gave me as a young upcoming player a lot of hope and it has helped everyone in the fact that now countries of a 'high' stature, Italy and Argentina now show Australian football more respect and the respect we deserve. I think the 2010 World Cup qualifiers is a realistic goal as long as I keep working hard and focused anything is possible especially in football. Nathan: It was great to see Australia doing so well in Germany , watching them from here in Australia has given me the ambition and motivation to hopefully be a part of that experience in 2010. Q: Many senior Socceroo players have retired or are thinking about giving the game away. You've both played in several of Australia 's junior teams... what's the next generation like, quality-wise? Bruce: I think the players coming up are of a good quality. We all have a lot of work to do to achieve what we dream but I think the players are all on the right track. The quality of players is reflected in some of the youngsters who have transferred to overseas clubs, like Spiranovic and Vidosic at Nurenburg and Adrian Leijer who just went to Fulham. Nathan: I think the generation is looking very promising. The current Socceroos are a golden generation and this will be a hard act to follow but hopefully we have enough talent to emulate what they have achieved. Also due to the A-League being such a success and the continued increase in the standard of play I think this league is a great pathway for future Socceroo hopefuls. Q: You are two of the most exciting prospects in the A-League but you've both shown a desire to play in Europe . Will this happen soon and what would your long-term club ambitions be? What teams do you support in European football? Bruce: Hopefully within the next year or two I would love to play in a European league. It's every young players dream to play in Europe . My favourite team is Arsenal! Nathan: I'd like to spend another year or two in the A-league because it is going so well but I always dream of playing overseas one day. My favourite team is Liverpool Q: Finally any good double act needs a nickname. What should we call you? The Dynamic Duo, Adelaide's Aces, the Bruce and Nathan show? Both: All those names you guys suggest are very original, what about Batman and Robin? (Laughs)


Sydney-born Jason Dasey (www.jasondasey.com) is a co-host of Soccernet SportsCenter and SportsCenter