Burnley finished the 2019/20 season in 10th place, a second top half finish for Sean Dyche’s men in the past four seasons. For a small, unfashionable club who don’t like to spend much money to last four years in the Premier League is impressive enough. To get one top half finish is a massive achievement, to get two is almost unheard of.
Sean Dyche has managed to maintain incredibly high standards despite a total net spend of just around £40million since gaining promotion in 2016. Indeed, since replacing Eddie Howe in October 2012, Dyche’s total net spend is around £30million. With that small of a budget he has won promotion twice and gotten two top ten Premier League finishes. It’s a remarkable return.
Dyche is one of the best managers in the Premier League, and deserves to be talked about as such. Nobody gets more out of his players, not many develop players as well as him. Not many can get so much out of so little. Dyche has taken a squad of lower league players and Premier League cast-offs and moulded them into one of the most consistent, overperforming teams in the top flight. Dyche is more than capable of managing any non “Big 6” sides and being successful. He’s capable of managing at a “Big 6” club, but he might not be attractive to them given his style of play. Perhaps if he looked more like a mafia hitman, he’d been along the same lines as Diego Simeone who’s style of play is similar to Dyche’s and is widely lauded as one of the best managers in the game.
Not to suggest Dyche is Simeone, but he’s a lot closer to Simeone than he is to Hodgson, Allardyce and Pulis.
Burnley are often dismissed as an “agricultural” team. They are written off as boring. But that’s simply not the truth. They’re just an incredibly well drilled team, who are organised, focused and efficient. They rarely make mistakes and are hard to beat, but they have plenty to offer going forward as well. It’s true that it’s not always attractive football, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s also a necessity for Burnley to employ a certain style of play given the gulf in finances between them and the vast majority of the league.
In an ideal world Dyche would have more backing, he certainly deserves it. He’s earned more spending power. Burnley are one of the best run clubs in the Premier League and recorded a post tax profit of over £75million across the last three reported financial years. They will likely record a loss this season, because of the pandemic, but it shouldn’t be a big loss. It won’t threaten their future, it shouldn’t force sales.
If Dyche had more backing, he could potentially get Burnley pushing for another Europa League spot. He’s that good. He takes players and gets the most out of them, and he makes them better. It’s rare for a player to leave the tutelage of Sean Dyche and not be a better player than they were when they joined him.
The work he has done with Michael Keane, James Tarkowski, Nick Pope, Chris Wood, Ashley Barnes and many others have turned them from lower league caliber players into top half Premier League talent. Jack Cork, Tom Heaton, Keane, Tarkowski and Pope have all become England internationals under him. There’s little doubt that Dwight McNeil will join them at some point. Burnley have had 29 England Internationals in total, 17 of them post-war. Five have earned the honours under Dyche, McNeil will become the sixth.
His ability to develop players is a tool that Burnley should be utilizing further. It could be a great selling point to young players looking for a move to a top flight club from the lower leagues or indeed from overseas. Burnley could turn themselves into something of a talent factory, something that would benefit them in the short and medium term as it would see them bring in a higher calibre of talent, and in the long term when those players are sold for a profit.
If Burnley want to keep hold of stay in the Premier League for the long term they need to ensure that Dyche stays put. One way to do that will be to keep the job interesting for him, and to back him. The lower leagues of English football, and leagues like the Polish Ekstraklasa, the 2. Bundesliga in Germany, the Baltic leagues and the Scandanavian leagues all offer plenty of young players with huge talent that can be bought cheaply, developed and turned into high calibre Premier League players who can then be sold off at a big profit and replaced without costing the club any money.
It would be doubly beneficial as it would increase Burnley’s profit margin, and make them even more self sustaining. It would offer them a real chance for growth. A sustained, manageable growth. Burnley’s commercial income is among the smallest in the league so they need to find other avenues of income. Player trading can be one such way.
Take a look at Brentford, they signed their Benrahma, Mbeumo, Watkins front three for a combined figure under £10mil and are set to make a £50mil profit this summer from selling Benrahma and Watkins, while retaining Mbeumo who’s arguably the most talented of the three. It’s possibly they could make a further £40mil off him next summer. A £90mil profit on three players.
Other clubs operate in similar ways and become hugely profitable. It takes quality scouting, and a bit of luck. But it also takes investment, it requires a “speculate to accumulate” mentality. Is that something Mike Garlick could display? In a league filled with billionaire owners, Garlick is a pauper in comparison with an estimated net worth of around £60mil. He can’t bankroll the club, but could he take some of the large profits the club have made and invest in their long term future.
He might have, if he wants to keep Dyche. After eight years at Turf Moor, Dyche would be forgiven if he began to feel weary at the task presented to him. A look through Burnley’s squad shows a solid unit but one with plenty of areas in need of addressing.
In Nick Pope, Burnley have one of the best goalkeepers in the league. Pope should be England number 1. Pope was rumoured to be a target of a number of Premier League clubs this summer but no move has materialized and it seems certain he will be staying at Turf Moor. Behind Pope, Burnley are well stocked with Bailey Peacock-Farrell, the hugely talented young keeper signed from Leeds last summer. With the departure of Joe Hart, Peacock-Farrell will become the number 2 and should feature in cup games. Another very talented youngster, Danish stopper Lukas Jensen will complete the goalkeeping trio. It’s a real position of strength for the club, has been for a number of years and should remain so.
At right back, Burnley have Matt Lowton and Phil Bardsley on their books. Both are solid players but Lowton is 31 and Bardsley is 35. Two players who’ve moved for small fees this calendar year would have been perfect for Dyche, and Burnley, but the Clarets failed to move for either. Nathan Ferguson, now of Crystal Palace, could have been bought from West Brom in January or signed for free in the summer. Luke Matheson moved from Rochdale to Wolves in January for £1mil. Even with a small budget, Burnley could have secured either. Or both.
To find a long term fixture at the position, Burnley will now have to spend a bit more but they should still be able to find a bargain. Perhaps Timothy Fosu-Mensah, currently behind Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Diogo Dalot and potentially Brandan Williams at Manchester United, could be an option. Fosu-Mensah is a hugely promising defender who is comfortable getting forward and offers versatility. Once touted as a potential long term starter for United, Fosu-Mensah is out of contract in 2021 and with United eager to sell players this summer, maybe Dyche could land a bargain.
An alternative target could be Joakim Maehle of Genk. He might prove a little bit pricey but he’s a very talented defender who’s comfortable on the ball and would fit in well to Burnley’s style of play.
At left back, Burnley have both Erik Peters and Charlie Taylor to call upon. Both are quality players who fit into what Sean Dyche wants of his team. That’s not to say things are necessarily set in the position though. Both are out of contract in 2021, and while Taylor is only 27, Peters is 32. Given Burnley’s frugal nature, it makes sense for them to look for a long term option who can be developed slowly and potentially become the first choice option.
It feels like Burnley missed another big opportunity to secure a player who could have developed into a big part of their future by their failure to enter the race for Hearts starlet Aaron Hickey, who is on the verge of a £2mil move to Bologna. There are other, similarly talented options, but they will prove more expensive. Crewe’s Harry Pickering has just signed a new contract but a decent sized bid would probably land him. If Burnley wanted to do something un-Burnley-ish, and look further afield, Michal Karbownik of Legia Warsaw could be an excellent option. A hugely talented 19 year old, who’s already been called up to the Polish senior national team, Karbownik might even prove less expensive than Pickering despite a higher pedigree.
Burnley do have young left back options on their books in Anthony Glennon and Ali Koiki but it remains to be seen if either are of the level required to play in the Premier League.
Burnley don’t have a problem with starting centre-backs, James Tarkowski is one of the best in the league and Ben Mee is a solid, reliable presence next to him. They do have a problem with depth though. The problem is, they don’t have any. Not really. They own Kevin Long, but he’s only played 33 times across four Premier League seasons. Burnley own three senior central defenders and Jimmy Dunne, an unproven 22 year old who hasn’t made a single appearance for the club and has yet to have a loan above League One level.
Burnley desperately need to address this situation, and ideally they would be looking to bring in two new additions in this area. Someone who can immediately be relied upon to back-up the starters and perhaps even challenge them for a starting spot, and a long term prospect that can be developed as a potential replacement for Tarkowski should Burnley decide to cash in at any point.
Burnley sent Dunne and Glennon on loan to Grimsby last season, and should be calling on Burnley to ask about Mattie Pollock. Pollock is a very talented defender who would benefit greatly from going to Sean Dyche’s school of centre-back play. Pollock has already drawn comparisons to Tarkowski and Harry Maguire, and is the perfect type of defender for Dyche.
In terms of providing back-up and competition to the starters, Joe Worrall is clearly the club’s choice. But as mentioned above, they don’t seem to want to pay the asking price and may need to look elsewhere. That should be the case. Worrall is very much the type of defender suited to Burnley’s style, they should be prepared to pay a decent figure for him. But as things stand, that doesn’t look likely. Perhaps Nathan Collins of Stoke, or more likely Scott McKenna of Aberdeen, could become alternative targets. Both fit the bill for Burnley’s style of play.
The alternative would be to explore the loan market. Phil Jones would seem an obvious option. As mentioned in a previous piece on this site, Jones was once hailed as the future of the England national team. Put aside the fact that he’s become a figure of fun, and remember his pedigree. Under a manager like Dyche, Jones could thrive. And he desperately needs a move away from Manchester United. If Jones isn’t worthy of consideration, Arsenal might have interest in loaning Callum Chambers or perhaps Southampton will be willing to loan Wesley Hoedt.
The wide midfield spots are one area in which Burnley do have talent, but also a big issue. Robbie Brady and Johann Berg Gudmundsson are very talented but they’re equally as injury prone. Brady has played more than 17 Premier League games in any of the last four seasons, while Gudmundsson missed 26 games last season and nine the season before. Both are starter calibre players but their injury issues likely mean that squad roles is their future.
Dwight McNeil is the real star at Burnley, a player capable of playing for any team in the league in a multitude of positions. Unfortunately for Burnley, they’re almost certain to lose him to a bigger club at some point so they must make the most of him while they have him. He’s capable of playing either wing, but unfortunately for Burnley there is only one of him. So regardless of which wing he plays on, he’s not on the other. Last season Jeff Hendrick played on the opposite wing for a lot of games, but he’s gone north to join the Toon which leaves an opening.
In an ideal world, Todd Cantwell would be a lovely fit at Burnley with his creativity adding to excellent work rate and a well rounded game. Cantwell on the left, with McNeil on the right, would be very exciting. Unfortunately Cantwell is likely outside of Burnley’s price range. Grady Diangana would have been a quality alternative but he’s completely a move to West Brom.
A really exciting option would be Florinel Coman of FCSB in Romania. A player of huge talent, and unlikely to cost much more than £15mil. If a British player is preferred, Marcus Edwards of Guimares could be perfect. The former Spurs academy star had a fantastic first season in Portugal and could be available for around £10mil. Alternatively, cash-strapped Schalke might be willing to sell Rabbi Matondo for a similar fee. If those prove too costly, perhaps a loan to buy deal could be struck for Tottenham’s Jack Clarke. The former Leeds man is hugely talented but well down the pecking order at Spurs.
Central Midfield is a real area of strength for Burnley. The pairing of Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood is one of the most reliable in the Premier League, and Josh Brownhill was a clever January pickup who can partner either without a noticeable dropoff in quality. Josh Benson is on the books and can become the fourth option. Burnley don’t have need any additions in central midfield, although if they wanted to make one they’d be well served to look at Sebastian Vasiliadis of Paderborn.
At just 22 years of age, Vasiliadis already has over 120 senior games under his belt, including 32 in the Bundesliga. An all action ball-winner, he’s neat and tidy on the ball which makes him a really good fit for Burnley. With Paderborn relegated, his asking price is rumoured to be in the £4mil range which is a bargain for a player of his type and talent. Callum Styles of Barnsley could be an alternative target, though he would likely cost more and at this point is not on the same level.
Upfront, Sean Dyche can call on Chris Wood, Ashley Barnes and Jay Rodriguez. All good players, all proven in the Premier League. Matej Vydra is also on the books, and he’s a talented player who has proven capable of being a prolific goalscorer in the Championship but hasn’t found his shooting boots in three Premier League seasons with West Brom and Burnley. He could probably fetch a good price from a Championship club looking for a goalscorer.
There is no pressing need for Burnley to add anything else upfront, unless Dyche feels he’d like a bit more variety. A nippy, inside forward type who can play a multitude of positions and partner any of the existing strikers. Adam Armstrong of Blackburn is coming off an impressive season where he scored 16 goals in the Championship, he could be an affordable option. If Burnley wanted to explore the loan market, Arsenal might be willing to let Reiss Nelson go out on loan given their embarrassment of attacking riches. Nelson can play on either wing or upfront and could give Burnley a real injection of pace and purpose in attack.
Obviously Burnley won’t add players in all areas, nor should they. Not in one summer anyway. They couldn’t afford to do it all at once, and it would cause too much disruption. But if they could stretch to a £20million summer of expenditure, Dyche will once again be able to work wonders. There are plenty of potential options available to them, especially if they are willing to look outside the UK.
Burnley will go as Sean Dyche goes. He will get them to overperform and he will keep them in the Premier League. As long as he remains at the club, they’ll be fine. But if he decides to leave, Burnley will find themselves standing on the edge of a cliff. They should do everything they can to convince him that he can remain at Burnley for the long term and take them even further than he already has.
The best way to do that is to back him in the transfer market. Otherwise clubs below Burnley, with owners prepared to invest large sums of money, will become more enticing to him. He’s one of the best managers in the Premier League, Burnley need to treat him like one.