Burnley: Can They Follow Palace's Unlikely Survival?

Burnley may be favourites to drop straight back into the Championship, but in Sean Dyche they have a manager capable of making them hard to beat. It will be a long, tough season...

Last Updated: 04/08/14 at 10:56 Post Comment

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LAST SEASON
Championship
2nd, 93pts, +35 GD FA Cup Third round League Cup Fourth round Top league scorer Danny Ings 21 Bookings 53, 22nd lowest in the Championship (plus two red cards)

Manager Sean Dyche (since October 2012; age 43) Odds on being first out of his job 25-1 (9th=)

Players in Lukas Jutkiewicz (Middlesbrough, £1,5m), Michael Kightly (Stoke, undisc), Marvin Sordell (Bolton, after loan at Charlton, undisc), Matt Gilks (free), Matt Taylor (West Ham, free), Steven Reid (West Brom, free).

Players out David Edgar (Birmingham City), Joseph Mills (Oldham Athletic), Junior Stanislas (AFC Bournemouth), Chris Baird (West Bromwich Albion).

Club turnover in 2012-13 £15.3m

Wage bill in 2012-13 £15.4m

Clubs talk a lot of nonsense when they appoint managers but the board of Burnley can look back with pride at the statement that greeted Sean Dyche's appointment in October 2012. It read in part: "Sean was the outstanding candidate... He is a natural leader with real presence... His commitment to a very strong and successful youth system was clear... These attributes, complemented by a fantastic ability to maximize resources in taking Watford to their highest position since relegation from the Premier League in 2008, make us confident Sean is the right man to take this club forward."

At the time Burnley had the worst defence in the Championship. Twenty months later he was being rewarded with a new contract after winning automatic promotion. Co-chairmen John Banaszkiewicz and Mike Garlick told fans: "We are very pleased to announce that we have agreed new and improved contracts with Sean Dyche and his staff and we thank them all for their hard work." Who would disagree even if he had been able to spend heavily last summer, rather than selling his leading scorer, Charlie Austin, to Championship rivals, Queens Park Rangers?

If you want to sum up the chasm between the top two divisions, consider that Burnley spent £15.4m on wages in 2012-13, fractionally more than their turnover, while as mentioned elsewhere QPR's wage bill exceeded their income by £18m. The figures will have been more in line last season, with the sides in the same division, but Austin will have been hugely surprised to discover that he would have found winning promotion a far easier ride at Turf Moor than at Loftus Road.

Supporters are no doubt delighted that Dyche has improved terms but there will still be a small nagging voice, saying: "Owen Coyle... Owen Coyle..." with which to contend. They will just have to live with that, though, and hope that Dyche finds Coyle's travails since defecting to Bolton mid-season after promotion to be a cautionary tale, and that he takes seriously another line from the October 2012 appointment statement: "Sean is especially keen to develop stronger links between Burnley Football Club and the local community."

In between signing his own deal, Dyche has been a prodigious autograph hunter, starting with new contracts for Kieran Trippier and Danny Lafferty. Some managers in Dyche's position sit around moaning about the difficulties of attracting players to an unfashionable club strongly fancied for relegation, but instead he has brought in Michael Kightly, Matt Gilks, Marvin Sordell, Matthew Taylor, Lukas Jutkiewicz and Steven Reid. Not much stardust there, it is true, but a decent smattering of hope and experience acquired at a cost that will not threaten the club's stability.

He said of agents in late July: "They didn't want to ring me a year ago - now they all want to speak to me. They get your number by hook or by crook - football is a village and everyone knows someone who knows someone. Then they ring you with players or send emails and texts offering players and they put things like: 'Available at £12m with £45,000-a-week wages.' I just send a simple reply: 'Wrong club.'"

It may change, it may do him no good at all, but Dyche comes across as surprisingly straightforward in a profession drowning in confected personality and banter. In the same chat with the Sunday People, he said of selling Austin: "They thought I should have been doing everything to keep him, but it would have damaged the club. I may look stupid, but I'm not."

You wonder what private conversations have gone on, what co-chairmen and manager would regard as a satisfactory outcome to this season. Perhaps that if they have a player with Austin's record again in the near future, they will not feel obliged to sell him for as little as £4m. The summer before Dyche's appointment Burnley accepted £6m for Jay Rodriguez, who had scored only one fewer than Austin in 2011-12 with 15. As it is the players that won promotion remain largely in place.

Dyche seems realistic. "The team has to be competitive this season. It has to deliver performances that at least give you a chance to win." That will be a lot easier said done in August, when the two home games are against Chelsea on the first Monday night then again on TV against Manchester United, sandwiching a visit to Swansea. Coyle's side recorded a home win against United in August 2009 but ending this month with anything other zero points will be noteworthy and offer hope for a much less hostile September, with trips to Crystal Palace and West Brom either side of Sunderland coming to Turf Moor.

This season will be a stiff education for Dyche, who admits he is still learning, and embarrassments will occur. But if all at the club can keep their heads and reach the January window at least in touch then some more spending - even with more than half an eye on how players would perform in the Championship.

The games with QPR will be particularly interesting. On 1 February the teams met at Loftus Road in a seesaw 3-3 draw; Burnley, already unbeaten in four, won eight of the next 10 (with two draws) while Rangers won one out of the following six, with four losses. That level of overachievement - that "fantastic ability to maximize resources" in operation - relative to Rangers and others will be hard to repeat. But the trend has been for a large number of clubs to be compressed in the bottom half, offering reason to believe. After writing off Crystal Palace completely a year ago, it is time to adjust to the reality of a Premier League with rising income and apparently falling standards.

Philip Cornwall

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