James Tarkowski has soared since his move to East Lancashire but his time with Burnley is surely finite. The former Brentford and Oldham man has been on the radar of other Premier League clubs for some time; his talents are there for all to see.
Tarkowski has a real defensive nous but also a genuine composure on the ball. He is not afraid to come out with the ball and play elaborate passes. Those passes don’t always reach their intended target but the evidence of Tarkowski’s ball-playing capabilities are clear. Ben Mee is a highly regarded defender but the Burnley skipper is far less comfortable with the ball at his feet. This is why it is Tarkowski who is earning international recognition and more applause from those who watch him.
Passing is a very important part of modern-day football. In truth, Tarkowski’s passing potential will never be fully recognised at Burnley. His expectation is to play a direct ball into one of the strikers or to keep possession with a simple pass. His manager, Sean Dyche, does not advocate risky passes out of defence to try and break through the lines. He would see that as an unnecessary risk which could leave his team on the back foot. While his passing capabilities are clearly illustrated, they aren’t being utilised to their full capacity. Nonetheless, Tarkowski has clearly benefited from his time with the Clarets.
Dyche makes defenders better at defending. That is a fact. He moulded Michael Keane into a combative centre-half which was in stark contrast to the timid youngster that first arrived from Manchester United. He helped Kieran Trippier with his defensive game and the ex-Claret still sings the praises of his former manager.
Tarkowski has become a more rugged and streetwise defender. Any defender who has worked with Dyche will benefit massively from the genuine attention that he puts on actual defending; the arts of defending can get somewhat lost in a modern game which is so focused on attacking play. Still, Tarkowski is not the perfect player.
The 27-year-old’s biggest weakness is his mentality. An out of form Tarkowski turns into a bit of a burden. His concentration dwindles which makes his passing erratic while his defensive play becomes very inconsistent. There were large periods last season where Tarkowski was below-par. Mistakes were becoming a regular occurrence. Ben Gibson must have been frustrated as Tarkowski and Mee both under-performed throughout sections of last season but were not dropped at any moment.
Dyche sees his centre-backs in training and knows them better than any punter or journalist. He clearly believes that Tarkowski and Mee are comfortably better than any of the other options at his disposal; if they are out of form then he trusts that they will surely play themselves back into form. That is a clear indicator of their capabilities because Gibson arrived with an excellent reputation.
Tarkowski knows he is probably due a move in the not-too-distant future and perhaps these lapses in form contribute to this. His ceiling is higher than simply avoiding relegation every season. Finding the motivation every week when there is no coherent objective other than survival is no doubt a difficult task. That siege mentality is fine for the first two seasons but there comes a time when people want more. It’s then time for a decision to be made for the good of the player and the good of the club.
Nobody wants top quality players without hunger. Many of these players will not want to overstay their welcome at a club without much ambition. Clubs sell their assets and evolve without them; Burnley have done that for years and will continue to do so. This isn’t a criticism of the Burnley approach. It’s just the way it is.