A quick glance at the Premier League table and there’s one team that appears to have been put in the wrong place, as if by some junior researcher given the job of compiling the latest standings. How have Burnley, a side operated on a shoestring budget and boasting half of the Republic of Ireland’s international squad, managed to find themselves in sixth place of supposedly the most competitive football league in the world?
Somewhere along the line, Sean Dyche has ghosted up on the Premier League, with his infectious brand of belief and optimism, propelling a team of extremely fit, diligent professionals into one of the hardest-to-beat sides in the land. It seems strangely ironic that – if they maintain their current pace – a town that voted almost in their entirety for Brexit, will be heading directly into Europe next season.
You can just picture it now: a grossly-sunburnt, sandals-and-sock sporting Dyche tramping up and down the touchline at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, screaming himself even hoarser as Burnley secure a famous 1-0 win over Sevilla thanks to a single Chris Wood headed goal. It’s the stuff of dreams.
For a small Lancastrian town such as Burnley, the higher echelons of the Premier League should be out of reach. The history of England’s post-1992 top flight is littered with have-a-go teams from the North making a dash for the top six, before stuttering, crashing, burning and ultimately being relegated several tiers. Sorry supporters of Blackburn, Wigan, Blackpool and Bolton.
But for Burnley and the impressive Dyche, there is something even more magnificent about their achievements. Not only did they secure their Premier League status last season (for the first time ever) on the back of some imperious home form, they’ve even started picking up points away from home during this campaign. All on the most meagre of budgets. Up until 2017, Burnley had never spent more than £10 million on a single footballer. Of the 20 Premier League teams, only then-Championship sides Huddersfield and Brighton were spending less on wages in the 2016/17 season.
And then when Dyche did come into some money, he bought Chris Wood. Hey, we’re not knocking Chris Wood, but when you have two burly target men in Sam Vokes and Ashley Barnes, you don’t expect a third to walk in the door for a club record £17 million! Dyche also managed to tread the fine line between sheer genius and utter lunacy when he partnered Vokes and Wood up top – two enormous men who possess the combined mobility of an articulated lorry with three wheels – and still won the game.
As a barking, rough-and-ready centre-half in his day, Dyche has also instilled in his own defenders a total refusal to be beaten. Between them, Tarkowski and Mee have blocked an outrageous 52 shots – part of a strange yet profitable tactic in which Burnley appear to actively will other teams to have frequent pop shots at a goal barred by two mountainous defenders.
Now, Sean Dyche will be the first man to tell you he won’t be getting carried away, but his recent press conference following the late win over Stoke City saw him declare himself “the proudest man in Proudsville.” And so he should be. Sensibly, it appears he turned down the poisoned chalice that is the Everton job and is intent on proving so many of the naysayers wrong by maintaining Burnley’s upwards trajectory.
In a modern game dominated by foreign imports, pink boots and tiki-taka football, Sean Dyche has somehow managed to get the biggest, strongest, tallest, most British (and Irish) side in current existence playing attractive counter-attacking football and picking up points. For Burnley fans, this season at least, relegation battles certainly aren’t on the agenda.
Not too shabby for a man who bears more of a resemblance to WWE legend Stone Cold Steve Austin than an actual modern day football manager.