Written by Matt Hanson @matthanson75
Down in East Lancashire quietly going about his business is Sean Dyche confounding critics and setting all sorts of records at Burnley football club. When you look at his statistics you wonder how come a top six premier league side hasn’t tried to hire him?
Not many supporters were overly excited when Burnley appointed Sean Dyche as their new manager in October 2012.
A journeyman player who had his finest moments in a Chesterfield shirt that heartbreakingly missed out on an FA Cup Final, and a manager with limited experience after falling foul to the new ownership of Watford FC having guided them to 11th place in the Championship in the 2011-12 season, the clubs best finish in 4 seasons. Behind this was a man who grew up under the tutorage of Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest and would captain the majority of clubs he represented. Dyche was destined to lead and his management career was set to take off at Turf Moor.
Fast forward 7 years….. Dyche took the Clarets back to the Premier League in his first full season in charge, only to see his side relegated at the first hurdle. Credit must go to the Burnley board and of course Dyche for sticking together because what has materialised since, is nothing short of a miracle.
A return to the Premier League was achieved immediately and despite being the favourites for relegation, Burnley managed to stave off relegation on undoubtedly the lowest divisional budget.
The 2017/18 season saw Dyche’s stock rise even further when he guided the club to a Premier League high of 7th place, which resulted in European qualification.
Many felt at this point it may well be an opportunity for Dyche to cut his teeth with a new project. The reality was that a 7th place finish for a club like Burnley could never be eclipsed but like the board had shown him in the relegation season, Dyche returned the goodwill and loyalty by overseeing the historic campaign of European Football as the side tried to negotiate the qualification stages of the Europa League. Sadly it was not meant to be and Burnley fell short at the final hurdle, suffering defeat against Olympiakos of Greece.
The 2018/19 season was very much a story of two halves. The former seeing the club fail to find any rhythm in the opening weeks of the season as the team struggled with the new commitments of European football and the Thursday/Sunday culture was alien to the players, management and supporters. Despite failing to make the Europa League, the decay that had set in continued and many pundits were writing off both Dyche and the playing squad. A relegation battle looked a realistic possibility.
The latter half of the season was more like the Burnley of the previous campaign. With skipper Tom Heaton restored to the starting line up, the team had a presence, a leader and some much needed victories that enabled them to climb the league and finish in a respectable 15th position.
The current campaign has seen the spotlight fall on Dyche again. Riding high in 7th place, just one point off Wolves in 5th, the accolades keep coming and now more than ever, there is a growing feeling that if a project comes up that interests him, he may well take it.
Recently, there has been the departure of Mauricio Pochetino from Spurs. This week, the media vultures are circling around West Ham United, Everton and Arsenal. So should Dyche be a contender? And how would he get on?
Some rival supporters accuse Dyche of being “anti-football” in various social media circles, referring to his game management (aka time wasting) as over excessive. So why do Burnley have the knack of scoring goals when it matters? Outside of the top 4, only Tottenham have scored more goals and defensively out of the sides below them in the table only Manchester Utd and Bournemouth have better defensive records.
Stats don’t lie and Dyche has made Burnley a potent force. They have always had a strong defensive jaw, but as one of the rare exponents of the 4-4-2 system, the Clarets have scope for goals, particularly with the successful partnership of Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood hunting down defences across the land.
However, Dyche has always said he would play a different brand of football if his budgets allowed. Is now his time? Is this his chance?
Working to stringent budgets and treating the money like his own has enabled Burnley to become one of the most prudently run clubs in Europe. What would Dyche do with a bigger purse?
One thing Dyche has always done, is his due diligence. Clubs like Burnley can ill afford egos and virtually every signing has been a careful selection based around the player’s ability to fit into the group of players he has recruited.
Many of the signings he has made have appeared uninspiring. In the first promotion season Tom Heaton arrived from Bristol City who had been relegated. Midfielder Dave Jones had been released from Wigan and Scott Arfield was surplus to requirements at Huddersfield Town. All three didn’t cost a penny yet were huge performers for the club in their time at Turf Moor.
Looking at the current group, there are key performers across the park, but Dyche always has a strong spine. In goal, Nick Pope has seen off competition from Heaton and Joe Hart, and is an undisputed #1. The back line is superbly marshalled by skipper Ben Mee and James Tarkowski, whilst in midfield Jack Cork has found a great partnership with Ashley Westwood. Westwood in particular has seen his career rejuvenated by Dyche following a disappointing spell at Aston Villa.
In attack, Barnes and Wood continue to give defenders sleepless nights. With quality in wide areas, Burnley under Dyche have the ability to score goals if the strike duo get the service.
It’s no secret that the heartbeat of the side stems from an English mentality. The spine outlines this with every player except Wood being English. Wood himself arrived in the UK as a teenager, so hardly classed as a foreigner.
So how would Dyche cope with signing European or Worldwide elite talent at a ‘bigger’ club?
This is where we enter the unknown. Dyche has almost exclusively signed English and Irish players in his time at Turf Moor. Forays into the European market have had mixed results.
Jelle Vossen, a Belgian International signed for Burnley in the summer of 2015 but lasted just one month and one game. Rouwen Hennings, a German striker arrived with a reputation but failed to make his mark, with just a solitary FA Cup Goal to his name. Although notably, he is currently 3rd in the Bundesliga scoring charts with 9 goals in 12 games and only Lewandoski and young hot shot Timo Werner sit above him.
Steven Defour was a magical footballer who suffered with a number of injuries. Many would say the club didn’t get a great deal out of him but his 2nd campaign, which resulted in a 7th place finish will long live in the memory. That season he was fit and determined. The standard of his midfield play was a delight and even though his time at the club finished with a whimper (and a free transfer), he will always be fondly remembered.
Defour was one of Dyche’s rare wildcards. He has signed players who have proven themselves in English conditions like Johan Berg Gudmundsson (from Charlton) and Dutch full back Erik Pieters who had experience at Stoke City.
Currently, Matej Vydra the Czech Republic International forward is in and around the squad but has made no impact in his time at Turf Moor but again has a wealth of domestic experience.
In his time at the club, Dyche as rarely gambled with youth. Every season in the Premier League, has seen either a battle to stave off relegation or trying to keep momentum to win a European place. There has been no time to gamble with anything other than his trusted lieutenants.
Last season saw a breakthrough moment when Dyche entrusted left side attacker, Dwight McNeill the opportunity to stake a claim for a regular place, something he grabbed with both hands. He has gone on to be one of the most sought after talents in Europe and is ultimately the teams prized asset in terms of value.
With the exception of McNeill, there has been no youngster who has come through Burnley’s ever impressive academy system, but that won’t taint Dyche. If anything, that will be his legacy that he has built something for tomorrow whilst being the custodian for today.
So could Sean Dyche take the reins at a so called bigger club? Arsenal would dream bigger. Everton apparently flirted with the idea before appointing Marco Silva, but it’s unlikely that should Silva depart, that they will look down that route. So what about West Ham?
West Ham have the scope to be a top 8 club and given the new stadium and squad investment, it is ready made. Pellegrini is on borrowed time following a disastrous run of results. They have the worst defensive record outside of the relegation zone and they may need someone to bring a resolute approach to their defensive problems. They have outstanding attacking talent and a reasonable quota of English players, particularly skipper Mark Noble and prized asset Declan Rice.
The location would suit too. Dyche has never uprooted his family during his time at Turf Moor. Their base is and always will be in Northamptonshire, the county where he grew up.
He would quickly make the Hammers hard to beat and then build from that foundation. With the right players at his disposal, you can see him being a little more expansive but Dyche knows only too well that the Premier League is a results business and that will always be his primary objective irrespective of whether he has a soldier of war or a Brazilian samba star in his ranks.
He would have to win supporters over, that is for sure. However, he is now a proven top flight manager and he will at some point appeal to another owner, an owner who is prepared to give him the tools to give the club a facelift from top to bottom, an owner who needs to give him time to adjust to new surroundings and an owner who will enable him to develop a brand of football that Dyche wants to play based on the budget constraints he is working to.
Time will tell but don’t be surprised to see him succeed somewhere else, sometime soon. He just needs what he needed in October 2012, an opportunity.
Dyche has proved his loyalty to Burnley and that may continue, but who can begrudge him seeking something different?