In fine Kompany: Burnley are way ahead of schedule in their great rebuild

Date published: Tuesday 20th December 2022 12:32 - Ian King

Burnley manager Vincent Kompany

Burnley will be top of the Championship on Christmas Day, a gift come early from a new manager who is exceeding some expectations.


In amongst the many characteristics that make up the soup that is a successful football team, how a group of players react to defeat can be under-estimated. Few teams will go through an entire season unbeaten, and how they react to the sting of defeat can make the difference between silverware and wondering what might have been.

A whole World Cup ago in early November, the Championship’s game of the weekend was at Bramall Lane between Sheffield United and Burnley. The Clarets were top of the table, six points above United, who were back in the running in third place after a wobble lasting six games over the first three weeks of October. Sheffield United won 5-2; it was Burnley’s first league defeat since August.

Their next match loomed large on the horizon in the aftermath of that Sheffield United result. A first local derby against bitter rivals Blackburn Rovers in more than six-and-a-half years would have been a nervy occasion at the best of times, but not only did Burnley have to recover from their defeat at Sheffield United against their local rivals, but they had to do so against local rivals just two points behind them.

Any doubters needn’t have worried. Burnley breezed to comfortable 3-0 win against Blackburn, and since returning from their World Cup break they’ve followed that with wins against Queens Park Rangers and Middlesbrough. Burnley are now eight points clear of Blackburn and three points clear of Sheffield United, and will be top of the Championship for Christmas. Tucked into the gap before Christmas comes a Carabao Cup trip to Old Trafford to play Manchester United.

We’re at the exact halfway point of the Championship season, and it’s worth pausing to admire any team losing only two of 23 games in this particular division. Sheffield United have lost the second fewest games in the Championship this season, and they’ve lost five. The only reason Burnley’s lead at the top of the table isn’t greater has been that they’ve drawn eight games, but it seems churlish to complain.

There were one or two doubters when Vincent Kompany was appointed to this position in the middle of June, and there were solid enough reasons to believe that there was an element of risk to taking on a manager who’d been a big name as a player, but who had no experience as a manager in England – even though he had finished third in the Jupiler Pro League in each of his two seasons in Belgium with Anderlecht – and especially since he would ultimately be replacing a manager who had, over the previous nine-and-a-half years, become a club legend: Sean Dyche.

These weren’t the only reasons for some degree of trepidation during the summer. Relegation had brought a clear-out of the first-team squad, so whatever followed was always going to be different. And the Championship is a unique football landscape to anywhere else. In no other division does the distinctive smell of desperation hang quite so heavy in the air, and that desperation can do strange things to people, be they owners, managers, or even players.

Kompany, it had been reported, had targeted a top-six place by the midway point of this season, so it’s fair to say that he’s currently running well ahead of schedule. The bedrock of this season’s success has been their home form. Burnley remain unbeaten at home in all competitions so far this season. Turf Moor, which had been one of the more bothersome away games for other Premier League clubs, had lost a little of its bite over the previous couple of seasons. That bite, as could be both seen and heard during the Blackburn game, has emphatically returned.

A potential issue might have emerged should Belgium make a move for Kompany to replace Roberto Martinez as the Belgium head coach, but it has already been reported that Kompany has sought to distance himself from the available position, and why shouldn’t he? Belgium have some excellent players, but with a number having retired after the World Cup, there’s a huge rebuilding job to be done there.

There seems nothing for Kompany to gain by rushing straight back home the first time they come a-calling. And regardless of any other considerations, he’s at the start of his managerial career and everything is going well at Turf Moor. The Belgium job may be of greater interest to him in ten or 20 years’ time.

With each game that has passed since the Sheffield United clash, Burnley have made that result look more like the blip it surely was. Long-time striker Ashley Barnes scored his first two league goals of the season to help them on their way to that win against Blackburn. At QPR, they were two up by half-time and three up by the end. Against Middlesbrough they conceded first, but they came back to win with a degree to spare.

There is, of course, still plenty of time for a lot of things to go wrong. Such is the nature of the Championship. This is a division that only gets increasingly difficult as each season progresses. It’s a marathon not a sprint. But what has impressed about Burnley so far this season has been this inner strength. There’s been this sense of fortitude about Burnley for much of this season.

This shows itself in many forms. It’s there in coming from behind to win a match. It’s there in bouncing back from a bad defeat against promotion rivals, when in your next game you’ve got to go and face down your local rivals. It was there in that long unbeaten run, and in the unbeaten run they’ve maintained at home.

And it would find its ultimate form were Burnley to bounce back into the Premier League come the end of this season looking like a very different team to that which fell from it 12 months earlier. Taking into account his slow and steady approach, Vincent Kompany seems to be way ahead of schedule.

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