There is a gruff, hard exterior to Sean Dyche which makes him easy to stereotype. If you watched Burnley and witnessed James Tarkowski letting Richarlison ‘know he was there’ at Goodison Park on Monday night, it’s hard to stop that initial assumption becoming accepted as fact. Only, instead of wanting to prove himself as something more than they seem, Dyche and the Clarets relish in everybody knowing what they’re about.
Being the resident Premier League ‘levellers’ — the club who don’t spend millions trying to change their image but rather stick to what they know, playing hard, simple and effective — has its advantages. Like it or not, that is English football’s comfort zone. We see it every day, under something of a façade. English football might be trying to change its ways but safety first, going direct and getting the ball into the box, are components which have traditionally made up our style. ‘
Gareth Southgate’s England, while progressive in every sense on and off the pitch, were still fundamentally building from this base at Euro 2020. They still looked to play through pace in the wide areas and into Harry Kane while keeping a low block, particularly when they took the lead. Defending first is in our nature and can result in a frustrating lack of intent to kill a match off.
Sean Dyche and Burnley never look for that moment of initiative. If it comes they’ll act but seldom at the expense of what they start the match with. That is, in effect, a point. Because their style fits in with what many have grown up with, even if it is ‘typically English’ and archaically so, Burnley attract admirers. The fact they have managed to steady themselves in the Premier League and become a team that ‘knows how to survive’ without major outlay, and has done so with a remit of hard work and effort, has also seen them drift into the realms of cliché.
For a certain generation, what they see and know is enough. Tactics? It isn’t about that. Just run fast, tackle hard, do your job and you’ll be fine. Burnley are a club who people assume will be just that, no matter what the form book says. Turf Moor will be a hard place to go for anyone, particularly when the temperatures drop and the wind and rain swirls in your face at the height of February, regardless of if results suggest that.
The game has moved on, but such a harsh reality is hard for some to bare. To show how outdated it is, we only need to look at Burnley’s record away at Manchester City. Teams at the bottom of the Premier League are told to stay organised, compact and, in effect, limit the damage on away days to the big boys. However, on their last four visits to the Etihad Stadium in all competitions, Sean Dyche has lost 5-0. Yet, they are still seen as a blueprint for how to function as a smaller club in the top flight.
Leeds United continue to split opinion for taking on all comers in the same open and, often, kamikaze fashion, accepting heavy losses along the way. After a 6-2 loss at Manchester United last season, the debate raged over whether they should be more like Burnley. They won at the Etihad and finished 20 points above the Clarets but not before running out 4-0 winners in their back yard.
Fundamentally, though, the evidence that Burnley playing to their strengths and accepting their weaknesses works is clear. They survive, it’s what they do, and even when it is assumed their time will come to an end — they’ve been in the division since 2016 and even qualified for Europe in that time — Burnley manage to do enough. The biggest reason for that is Sean Dyche, the conductor of their orchestra. He has the whole town, let alone club, dancing to his beat. A pub down the road is named after him and it’s a job for life. Well, the next four years, anyway.
Burnley have bought into Sean Dyche — a former defender who played within himself — and for long, they’ve revelled in the outer perception. This season, they’ve rattled Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp because they’ve played hard. Fairly or not, they don’t care. In that sense, Dyche is to Burnley what Klopp is at Anfield and Pep Guardiola is at City; the glue who holds everything together.
There are plenty of people who believe Dyche is the only thing keeping Burnley in the top flight. History does suggest luck runs out without money — albeit Maxwell Cornet, their new £12.5m summer signing from Lyon, hints at an acceptance of this. But Burnley are as important for Dyche as he is for them. Rumours have been rife over interest from other, bigger clubs and plenty of people want to see him take on a new challenge. Relations have become fraught over recent months as personal frustration grew but there is a reason Dyche characterised his signing a new contract as “never really in doubt”.
It is a bit of a myth that a manager who works well on a budget can do better with a bigger one. At Burnley, Sean Dyche sets the expectation. If he were to move to Everton, West Ham, or as some have suggested, Arsenal, where the clash of styles would hit heaviest, he’d be at risk of being swallowed up by what was demanded of him.
Dyche’s success at Burnley is down to the relationships; the love, the understanding and the acceptance. Fans kept onside after relegation in 2015 and rallied to promotion a year later; that season in the Championship did them the world of good.
These are the sorts of things that can, given the right conditions, define the difference between success and failure. It is easy to suggest that Sean Dyche has outgrown his surroundings, but really, he would be a fool to have left them.
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