Sean Dyche has been the Burnley manager for just over seven years and has guided them to some of the best times in recent club history. Promotions to the Premier League in 2014 and 2016 (the year in which they won the Championship title and were completely unbeaten from Boxing Day 2015 until the end of the season) were something that Burnley fans were only dreaming of when Dyche took over the midtable side, but he has taken them so much further than even that. Dyche is, without doubt, one of the best managers in the club’s 138-year history, so what is happening?
There is a very negative feeling around the club at the moment. Even before Burnley’s last Premier League win (a grueling 1-0 away victory down in Bournemouth), fans could see that performances were starting to drop off and they were starting to rely on luck more than the direct and physical style of play that (used to) make Burnley hard to beat.
This style of football was never pretty but it got results. Some of Burnley’s most iconic results in the Premier League have come because they have battled more than the opposition and have simply bypassed the modern, midfield based tactics of the league by going direct to their target men up-front, however, this is now starting to wear thin on some Burnley fans. There is a feeling around the stadium that the fans are bored of watching this football fail and this mostly boils down to Dyche.
The main dilemma
The Burnley manager has never been one for over-rotating his team, often using the same core players for an entire season, and this used to work. It would form a tight-knit group that are in sync with the way that each other play. The center-back pairing work in tandem with each other so that if one is committed to a challenge or out of position, the other is there to cover, whilst the full-back is also able to drop in and help provide cover, whilst at the other end of the pitch, the two strikers know how the other operates best and they feed off each other and are able to disrupt even the tightest of defences.
This works wonders when it is going well, but what does Dyche do when it goes wrong? Nothing. An example is Ashley Barnes, one of Dyche’s favoured strikers and Burnley’s highest scorer in the Premier League (although Chris Wood is rapidly catching him). Barnes had been carrying a slight groin injury before the crucial game against Aston Villa on New Year’s Day, and many expected Dyche to rest him and bring in the in-form local boy Jay Rodriguez as well as replacing a struggling Jeff Hendrick with a fit and raring-to go Johann Berg Gudmundsson. Dyche opted however to play both Hendrick and Barnes. Burnley went on to lose the game, mainly due to being two goals down at half-time after a sloppy first half that saw no creativity and poor service in attack as well as poor defending.
This stubbornness when selecting his team has been around for a long time, but there are many other frustrations that are also adding fuel to the “Dyche Out” fire, including a seeming lack of ambition in the transfer market. After the disappointing home defeat against Aston Villa, Dyche was conducting his post-match interview when he was asked about any possible comings and goings. This would be a point that many Burnley fans were eager to hear. The club was set to lose loanee Danny Drinkwater due to a lack of playing time and signings were needed to bolster the defence, add some creativity in midfield, and find a backup for the tiring Jack Cork, but the news from Dyche was disappointing. They were told that incomings would be “unlikely” due to a lack of funds.
This seemed typical Dyche to many who were growing tired of excuses and poor form. The club has never had the money of sides like Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Aston Villa to name but a few, but they expected some kind of signing due to the sheer amount of money involved in, say, a television deal. Since Dyche made his statement, the club has been linked with a couple of players, but no concrete links in the third week of the month is starting to look worrying.
Not all doom and gloom
There is some hope for Burnley fans yet, however, thanks to the form of other sides in the division. Aston Villa and Bournemouth are playing just as poorly as Burnley, and Norwich look down and out at the bottom of the league, so there is a chance that Burnley can recover to a respectable position if they can manage to change this form around. They also know what it’s like to go through this kind of slump as they’ve had one every year. If Burnley can make a couple of additions in the transfer window, Dyche’s team selections pay off and the players begin to battle and show fight on the pitch, then they should be fine. Experience pays off and their quality, combined with the form of other teams, could see them finish outside the relegation zone again this season, allowing them to rest and reset in the summer.
Verdict: Stay or go?
This is the tricky bit. Burnley fans need to be careful what they wish for. Getting rid of Dyche now could keep them up but be the undoing of the club in the long run, whilst sticking with him could get them relegated but see them come back up as they did in 2016. It is always a gamble when a club is in a rut like this one. The sensible thing to do would be to wait and see. If the club goes down, but show fight and a willingness to play then Dyche should get another shot, but if Burnley are relegated and there is no fight, no scrappy Burnley mentality to cling onto safety, then it could be worth looking elsewhere.
This topic is where the biggest Burnley divide is found as the fanbase is generally split between those who have seen the lows that the club has been to before, and want to enjoy this high as long as it lasts and almost be grateful that the club is up in the Premier League and those who don’t want to settle. They want the club to push on and take it to the “bigger” teams in the country.