‘Stay humble, stay hungry, keep learning’
Ajani Burchall moved to the head of an illustrious group of Bermudians after making an historic first-team debut for Bournemouth at the weekend.
Burchall, who only turned 16 on November 5, became the youngest Bermudian, and the third-youngest Bournemouth player, to appear in the English Football League.
Aged 16 years and 37 days, the young winger came on as a late substitute in his team’s 5-0 rout of Huddersfield Town in the Sky Bet Championship.
Before Saturday’s match at the Vitality Stadium, Clyde Best had been the youngest Bermudian player to appear on the big stage in England, aged 18 years and 182 days when he made his debut for West Ham United in a 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal on August 25, 1969.
Best had eclipsed by about 100 days Arnold Wollard, who was the first Bermudian to turn professional 20 years earlier — with Northampton Town on June 1, 1949 before establishing himself fully at Newcastle United, ironically after a spell at Bournemouth.
Best, who scored 47 goals in 186 appearances for West Ham, said: “It’s great that [Ajani’s] got this far and I wish him the best.
“I just hope he’s got the mentality, which I think he has, and goes out and does everything he can to maintain his place every week.
“I hope he continues to do what he has to do and train hard, listen to his coaches and pay attention.”
It has not been overlooked that Burchall’s debut came against a club with ties to Bermuda.
“Ajani made his debut against Huddersfield, which is very ironic considering it’s a club I previously played for and had a huge part of my career there,” said Nahki Wells, the Bristol City striker, who was sold to Premier League side Burnley for £5 million in August 2017.
“This is amazing news, an amazing achievement and something that kind of came out of the blue.
“I know Bournemouth hold him in high regards in that he’s a huge talent and one for the future, and rightfully so he’s been given a chance to come off the bench and make his debut in the Championship at such a young age.”
Wells added: “If I compare my career and how things went for me at 16, I was just breaking through at Dandy Town and a little bit prior to playing for the national team.
“But it’s no comparison to playing at this level and I am proud to see another Bermudian make that step up in what is a difficult sport to break into.
“I’m looking forward to things to come for him in the future and, of course, it would be great one day to be able to play against another local. Hopefully sooner than later.”
Burchall, the former Bermuda Under-15 forward, joined Bournemouth’s academy last year after being offered a pre-scholarship agreement.
His development has taken few by surprise, least of all Shaun Goater, the Manchester City legend, who has been keeping tabs on the player since he and his family moved to England a few years ago.
“The first time I saw Ajani play here in England was against Manchester City under-14s,” said Goater, who scored 84 goals in 184 appearances for City, said. “He had the No 10 on for Bournemouth and I said to him that he was the best player on the park.
“The City academy coach pulled me after the game and said ‘I really like him’, so he also had recognised Ajani’s ability and potential.
“City won the game 2-1. But I remember thinking if he was in the City team they would have comfortably won the game.”
Goater believes Burchall has a bright future ahead of him.
“Ajani has potential and has also been a humble kid, and that goes along way,” he added. “He understands that all that hard work has got him to where he is — to understand to stay humble and continue working hard.
“There are going to be more good days, but there will be some bad ones in between as well, so it’s how he bounces back and keeps going.”
Wells added: “He’s still got a long ways to go to get his foot in the door and play regularly at that level, or at whatever level presents itself, and my advice to him is to stay humble, stay hungry and keep learning.
“This period from now to 25 is so much of a learning curve; he just needs to continue to soak up the advice and wisdom from players around him.
“I know how difficult things can be, but my fingers are crossed and I wish him the absolute best.”