You would be forgiven for believing that Burnley were favorites for relegation since their promotion to the Premier League. Any team with a budget as low as theirs is expected to struggle to cope in the most expensive league in the world. Manchester United spent upward of £60 million on Angel Di Maria last summer, Burnley FC have only spent £45 million in the 133 year history of their club. It’s facts like that which make it hard to believe that Burnley would be capable of surviving in a league amongst financial powerhouses. However, with 8 games remaining in the season Burnley still have a chance of staving off relegation with only a point between them and Sunderland in 17th. It is a credit to Sean Dyche and his squad that they have placed themselves in this position while the side that were runners-up to in the Championship are languishing at the foot of the table. What would it mean for the Premier League if the ultimate underdogs could survive amongst their more affluent peers? Does it satisfy the footballing purist that although money dominates the modern game there is still hope? Or would it mean a massive wake up call for the clubs who are spending money but not spending it on quality?
Burnley’s run in isn’t the kindest, with successive home visits round the corner from both Arsenal and Tottenham followed by an away trip to Goodison park. By April 18th the one point gap between the Clarets and safety could be a distant memory. If Burnley have shown anything this season though it is their incredible resolve. Sean Dyche’s side have managed to avoid defeat both times they met Manchester City and even managed a historic victory away to the Champions less than two weeks ago.
Three games stick out in their remaining fixture list: Leicester at home (April 25th), Hull City away (May 9th) and Aston Villa away on the last day of the season (May 24th). With Hull City and Aston Villa both still featuring in the relegation scrap these two fixtures could prove to be major players in deciding who will be in the top tier next season. Leicester at home is 3 points that Burnley can’t avoid to miss out on with how tight the race is at the bottom. Interspersed between these games are an away trip to West Ham and a home game against Stoke City. Anything could come from those two games as West Ham’s and Stoke’s season’s are basically over, the two sides are in state of flux between now and the season’s end with little to play for other than pride. I am sure that Sean Dyche’s side approach every game is the same, they have that grit and honesty about them that has got them this far already and I hardly see them making changes to their formula at this stage.
Burnley spent a reported £9.5mill on 5 players in preparation of their Premier League campaign. QPR and Leicester City who were promoted with Burnley spent, respectively, £35.5mill (6 players) and £20mill (4 players). Currently, of those three promoted sides Burnley appear the most capable of prolonging their stay in England’s top flight. Of the players that Burnley spent that money on only Michael Kightly came from a current Premier League side with experience of the division (Michael Keane was signed from Man United but with limited first team exposure at this level). What it shows is the capability of and talent available from the players in the lower divisions to cope in the Premier League without having to go out and dilute your squad with foreign investments with inflated transfer fees. The transfer market is so distorted now with the money available that Premier League ‘yo-yo’ clubs can end up splurging millions on second rate talent from abroad rather than low cost quality on their doorstep. QPR are a case study for this, they have near plunged themselves into financial oblivion by signing mercenaries that are supposedly quality international footballers. Yet, in QPR’s case their star performer is an English striker signed from Burnley no less, with no ‘Premier League’ experience. Charlie Austin 6 years ago was nearing the end of his season with Poole Town.
Sean Dyche and Burnley decided not to put the club through a transfer window of spending an unnecessary amount of money to stay in a league that they were always going to struggle with, considering the players they would attract over their rivals. Instead he carefully picked a few select players to add to his impressive squad that earned promotion in the first place. Relegation wasn’t going to be a shock if it came to Burnley, they had that underdog card for a reason. Now they stand on the precipice of one of the great Premier League achievements in recent memory.
Also, nothing against Sean Dyche but perhaps only he could manage this with Burnley. Perhaps if they stay up and another team throws millions at him to come manage them and do the same for them he wouldn’t be capable. Something about his set up with Burnley just seems organic, no frills and I don’t imagine there is much finesse to his training sessions it is just football at its rawest. But, if you tried to force and replicate it at another club it wouldn’t work.
How would teams react to their survival? You would hope it would drive home for them the importance of the manager and his squad as a unit and their status within the league. Burnley went the first 10 games of the season before they managed to claim a victory. Not once, on that run or since, has there even been contemplation of Sean Dyche being replaced. Burnley as club came to terms with their place in the league and from there what they were likely to achieve, relegation isnt a disaster for Burnley they know where they stand. That faith in Dyche, the players and ability to stay grounded instead of being drawn like a moth to a flame with the allure of the Premier Leagues potential riches is why they arein the position they are now. Should they survive it will be a great credit to the side and it’s philosophy.
But, it shouldn’t be seen as visionary or anything should they pull it off. It is something that you would think is obvious to everyone coming into the league. Very few sides break the Premier Leagues hierarchy and there is some that have been ruined attempting to. Owners, chairman and even fans seem to get excited when they start to experience success at this level and become greedy, at times, to the detriment of their club’s long-term success.
It’s not like Burnley staying up is going to send reverberations through English football, if they won the league then maybe that would be the case. What is probably likely to happen is that teams will panic and end up spending more money on sub-par talents to mask their supposed inefficiencies while displaying their most glaring one.
If Burnley can get themselves out of that bottom 3 by the end of play on May 24th I will be one of the first to stand up and applaud their achievement. A club that is capable of living within its means, keep a level head and survive in the Premier League is something special. It would be a reminder to us all of how simple the game really can be, a squad of players willing to play and battle for each other, a manager at the helm who has the backing of the players, board and fans, surely something we can all relate to playing at various levels throughout our years. It should make people take notice and think, are we over complicating this whole thing? Like I said there is an honesty to the team that Sean Dyche has at Burnley, and I honestly hope they can pick up the results needed to remain in the Prmeier League for at least another season.