Sean Dyche: The Ginger Mourinho? Or maybe Jose Mourinho: The Iberian Dyche?
Somewhat thankfully, this is now less relevant. Not only because the Ginger Mourinho moniker has lost its sheen these past five years, but mainly because we then don’t have to imagine Dyche sulking, preening and pouting on the touchline, high-fiving the ball boy before relapsing and throttling Ben Mee for nearly losing an aerial battle. You can’t unsee a Dyche pout.
Dyche’s reputation, much like his Burnley side’s league position, has ascended slowly, never threatening to plummet but still a long way from the summit. Dyche reached his Everest base camp in 2018, lugging Burnley up to a still absurd seventh place and a Europa League qualification spot. He was pipped to the Manager of the Year award by Pep Guardiola, whose Man City side selfishly achieved 100 points and scored more goals than Burley in the previous two seasons combined (so not exactly an M People moment). Still, Dyche, the man whose voice tract resonance has its own research department at CERN, proved he was among the top (top) active British managers.
Since then, well, not a lot really. Burnley will soon start their fifth consecutive year in the Premier League and, in this pre-season of predictions, he and they are an afterthought. Will Burnley go down? Not if he stays. Will they qualify for Europe? Probably not. Does it matter that Burnley achieved the same points tally last season as they did when they finished seventh? Do you care? Does anyone? Dyche and Burnley are now so predictably consistent that they have become forgettable. Dyche isn’t even the gruffest over-achieving British manager in the league anymore; Chris Wilder has flown into Everest base camp, nicked Dyche’s emergency wine stash and is drunk-dialling Jurgen and Akinfenwa. In this era of recency bias, Dyche’s consistent and sustained achievements with Burnley since 2012 have been sanitised.
They shouldn’t be. Burnley’s net spend per season over the last five years is £10.5m, which is 17th out of the teams in the Premier League and fourth out of the teams in the Championship. Burnley’s average position in the Premier League across this period is 12th. Last season, Burnley achieved 0.62 points per million spent in wages, bettered only by Wolves (0.64) and, yes it’s him again, Sheffield United (1.35!). Burnley’s club-record buts are Chris Wood and Ben Gibson (£15m each), with eight Championship sides spending more on their most expensive player.
Dyche was predictably less than enthusiastic about the prospect of five substitutions per game next season (which now won’t go ahead following a vote by the Premier League clubs) after he went full disparity-of-wealth-mode against Manchester City, naming an incomplete substitute’s bench that comprised of two goalkeepers, three uncapped youth-team players and Alastair Campbell. Dyche has not squeezed the most out of his meagre resources so much as cold-pressed them, extracting every last drop and licking the bowl just in case.
— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) June 22, 2020
The retort to his achievements is that his sides are dour; meat-and-potatoes long-ball merchants who would look just as comfortable kicking the ball over the bar as they occasionally do under it. When was the last time you enjoyed a Burnley match? When was the last time you watched a Burnley match? Some clubs, those clubs who market themselves as ‘more than a club’ that play the ‘right way’, should be and are subject to extra scrutiny over their style because they have invited it; Burnley are not one of them.
Football is an industry, the Premier League a market, Burnley a business – a business that doesn’t have one of the top 20 budgets in English football. So Dyche’s mandate, his job, is simply to keep Burnley in the Premier League. A cup run is a bonus, a European place greeted like an after-dinner complimentary Limoncello: unexpected, delighted to have but certainly not willing to pay for it. Dyche delivers on every KPI that matters. His annual appraisal is over before he’s had time to copy and paste his comments from last year. You can see how vital an individual is to a club when its fans wouldn’t resent, would almost be happy, for that individual to leave just to see them get a taste of the good life. See Kane at Tottenham, Grealish at Aston Villa; so it is with Dyche at Burnley.
Dyche has two years left on his contract and is currently the second longest-serving manager in England’s top four divisions. Burnley look unlikely to invest – Daniel Levy probably has posters of Burnley chairman Mike Garlick on his wall – and Dyche is said to be frustrated over the releases of Jeff Hendrick and Joe Hart. In 2018 there was a pervading sense that he had taken this team as far as it can go. Today, without material investment in players or the academy, that seems inescapable. Dyche only needs to look down towards the south coast to see what happens when you wait too long.
So, if Dyche does have ‘the chat’ with Burnley, where does he go afterwards? According to the latest odds – or, Sean Dyche Next Job Bingo™, which sounds like it should be played in the towns and cities of the clubs he is linked with – Dyche’s next job could be: Norwich, Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, West Ham, Stoke City or Newcastle. He would likely improve all of these teams – last season Burnley had more clean sheets than West Ham and Aston Villa combined – and, particularly at West Ham, he would have access to a strong academy and a bigger budget. But if the prospect of Dyche moving to any of these clubs doesn’t set your pulse running, chances are that Dyche’s is also at resting rate, elevating only when he shrugs his shoulders and sighs.
Is he just waiting to be approached by one of the Big Six, if not now then in a few years after a stint at a Bingo™ club? But in the past five years, all of the Big Six have changed their managers and Dyche was not linked with any of them, save for Arsenal in 2018 which was nothing more than brushed shoulders in a busy bar. Some have argued that British managers like Dyche are unfairly maligned and mistreated compared with their continental counterparts, from the worryingly xenophobic to the staggeringly inane. Dyche, briefly, nodded and growled along, but to his credit hasn’t raised this publicly in the four years since, perhaps realising the frailty and hypocrisy of the argument.
As ‘anyone but a Brit’ clearly isn’t the Big Six’s recruitment policy, as convenient and as much as some would perversely like that to be the case, then what is? The criteria for managing a Big Six side would, broadly, seem to be: (i) prior domestic success; (ii) experience in European competitions; (iii) an ability to manage star players; and/or (iv) a ‘philosophy’, the artist formerly known as a strategy. That was until recently anyway, before this loopy recruitment policy of appointing former club legends only, where having some prior managerial experience is fine but having none at all is even better.
Chelsea – Lampard
Manutd – Solskjaer
Arsenal – Arteta
Bayern – Hans Flick
Real Madrid – Zidane
Juventus – Pirlo
Barcelona – Koeman
“Hire ex-player and inshallah” is the new way to run football clubs
— Kevin 🦁 (@CFC__Kevin) August 17, 2020
Dyche does not tick any of these boxes (getting knocked out in the Europa League play-offs doesn’t really count). That’s not a criticism, just the reality of managing Burnley. So, if Dyche moved to one of the Bingo™ clubs instead, let’s say West Ham, would that move him any closer to a job with one of the Big Six? West Ham, with careful investment and management, might have a better prospect of breaking into the Big Six and/or winning a domestic trophy, certainly more than Burnley. But if Dyche improves West Ham, how much do they improve him, both his ability as a manager and his marketability? Do we get Dyche 2.0, or just Dyche 1.1?
How about Dychë instead then? Or Dychè? Dychē?! British managers rarely move to a European club. You can count on one hand the number of British managers at top-flight European clubs in the last five years (Eddie Newton, Nigel Pearson, Graham Potter and Gary Neville). That’s abysmal. Why don’t more make the move? Is it not wanting to relocate the family, or language barrier issues? Those are perfectly understandable reasons but of no less significance to the European managers that have moved in their droves to work at British clubs.
Is it money? Maybe, but if that really is the issue then we would have seen a British managerial conga line through the cash corridors of the Far East and Middle East, which hasn’t happened.
Is it that British managers are not considered for those roles? Why would they not be? There is no evidence, at all, to suggest that British managers who have sought a European managerial role are in any way discriminated against. In fact, the proportion of British managers who have moved to Europe and been successful is high: Bobby Robson, Roy Hodgson, John Toshack, Terry Venables, Schteve McClaren and, most recently, Newton. There have been more success stories than failures. The problem with that list is that, after Eddie Newton, the next youngest manager is Syntactician Schteve (59).
Dyche has experience managing, successfully, in the most high-profile league in the world, as well as one of the most challenging (the Championship, in which Dyche took Burnley from mid-table to automatic promotion. Twice.). If he is marketable in the Premier League, then he is marketable in any other European league. Perhaps he could take over a sleeping giant like FC Schalke 04 if David Wagner takes last season’s form into this one. How about shoring up sunny Levante’s defence and securing their return to European competition, in between applying Factor Fifty to his head? Maybe Dyche could move to a more amiable climate like Denmark and manage Brøndby, ever-present in European competitions and win them their first league title since 2005.
Dyche moving abroad would be fascinating, one of Britain’s best active managers challenging himself where so few of his contemporaries have. That would already distinguish him from many other British would-be Big Six managers. If he is successful, he starts ticking all the right boxes for a manager of a Big Six side. For Dyche, there is more to learn, more to be achieved, at a club like FC Schalke 04 than there is at a Bingo™ club. Dyche would not only be challenging himself, but also issuing a challenge to other British managers who may have been too content to stay on these shores and buy into the lazy narrative that Johnny Foreigner is taking the jobs that should be theirs. How refreshing would it be to see Dyche take the lead here, not just leaving it to precocious teenagers to show everyone that to move up you might need to move abroad first. Make the path less travelled the more exciting one.
A move abroad wouldn’t be without risk for Dyche. But if his ultimate aim is to manage a Big Six side and play in European competitions, then he will have to take risks anyway. Staying at Burnley is a risk, moving to a Bingo™ club is a risk, moving abroad might be the biggest risk, but the potential rewards are greater, the experience undoubtedly so.
Roll the dice, Dyche. Move abroad. Let Iberian Sean Dyches be a thing. Re-write the narrative.
Jimmy Young (not that one) – follow him on Twitter