As the Premier League enters its final straight, all eyes will be on both ends of the table with the race for the title and the battle to avoid the dreaded drop hotting up. One side in particular, in Burnley, have been written off all season but sit just one point off safety with nine matches to go after Saturday’s incredible 1-0 win at home to Manchester City. Such is the margin between the Clarets and the sides around them that they have a real chance of clambering to safety come May.
Whether they manage to stick around for another season among English football’s elite is one thing, but should they end up being relegated as most pundits predict, they will return to the Championship in better shape than most. The reason for this? Well, there is a tendency for clubs to open the chequebook following promotion to strengthen the squad and ensure they remain competitive in a league where it is becoming ever harder to do so.
Yet, Burnley did not do that, something manager Sean Dyche promised following their surprise 2nd placed finish last season that ensured a first return to the top table since 2010. In fact, it’s rather refreshing to see Dyche recognise the limitations of Burnley’s budget and a willingness not to break that, and second to put faith in the vast majority of the players who got them there in the first place.
While some might argue this is conceding defeat before the season even started, the end result is clear. Should Burnley not find a way to prolong their stay in the top flight, they won’t have broken the bank and won’t be so adversely affected by the crippling financial burden that other teams have fallen foul of once relegation is confirmed.
Take Leeds United for example. Their financial predicament was already known about a year before they finally succumbed to the dreaded trap door in 2004, but it resulted in the club almost ceasing to exist. Three seasons later, in 2007, the club were relegated to League One. Elsewhere, no one needs reminding of Portsmouth’s fall from grace in light of poor financial mismanagement and a succession of shady ownerships.
In a footballing culture where teams are left with the dilemma of spending to excess to compete, or simply meander aimlessly in the pits of football mediocrity, Burnley’s story is a reminder that the values of which football is so synonymous, still have a place within the business culture we see before us today.
This is epitomised by the fact Dyche and Burnley utilised a small squad of about twenty players in their exceptional promotion campaign, and have had similar consistency in selection this term too. It was only last month, of course, that the Burnley boss named an unchanged side for the tenth, yes tenth, consecutive game. ‘The ginger Mourinho’ very much embodies the anti-tinkerman at a time where managers often struggle to give adequate game time to keep everybody happy.
It is very hard not be caught up with Burnley’s story. One must applaud Dyche and the Turf Moor hierarchy for not giving in to the pressures that come with playing in the Premier League. In many respects they, and their manager, represent an old fashioned approach within the complexities of modern day football, but it works and it’s a financial model others ought to consider.
Dyche and Burnley are gritty but effective. The former Watford manager, who worked wonders in his season at Vicarage Road, has done so again in deepest Lancashire.
Other managers can have their 4-2-3-1’s and their 3-5-2’s, Dyche employs a simple 4-4-2 that’s served him well in a season where everyone wrote off Burnley. They’re still fighting despite barely spending anything, and have defied the so called experts who were convinced the Clarets would be gone by Christmas.