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Sean Dyche’s Burnley: How he built a Turf Moor dynasty and why The Clarets must extend his reign
Burnley, who have a genuine chance of qualifying for Europe next season, travel to champions Liverpool on Saturday. Watch all the action from 2.30pm on BT Sport 1 HD and Ultimate on TV and online.
For Sean Dyche and Burnley, it’s been another season to prove the doubters wrong.
Tipped yet again as relegation fodder - third-favourites with most bookmakers at the start of the season - they find themselves with a real chance of making a late sprint for a Europa League finish.
The Clarets will extend their stay in the top flight for a fourth season, a run that has seen them finish as high as seventh – clinching European qualification in the process.
Dyche’s first spell in the Premier League lasted just a season. After taking Burnley up as Championship winners in 2013/14, they went straight back down but the club kept faith with their manager and he has repaid it ten-fold.
The gravely-voiced former centre back is a no-nonsense throwback and a seamless fit with Burnley, a working-class Lancashire town with a proud tradition of manufacturing. Dyche's success has seen him become a figurehead for the club and the area.
It truly is one of the last managerial dynasties in English football.
Dyche is the second-longest serving coach in the Premier League, 18 days behind Bournemouth and Eddie Howe – ironically the man he replaced at Turf Moor.
The result is a side built entirely in his image - industrious and uncompromising.
In a league where most teams are moving towards possession-based, pressing play, Dyche has stuck stubbornly to his guns.
They unapologetically play to their strengths – balls down the channel, crosses from deep and overloading on set pieces – though the manager resents the ‘long ball’ label thrown at his side.
While the other 19 sides made use of the short goal-kick following this season’s rule change, Burnley stuck to their guns. After only five games of the 2019/20 campaign, goalkeeper Nick Pope had become the first player 100 unsuccessful long passes before anyone else had reached 80.
Dyche uses a golf analogy to describe his approach.
“If you can get it from here to the hole in less shots than everyone else, that's what it's all about.”
While others press high, they sit back.
The 4-4-2 is dying out? Burnley still play it.
The Premier League doesn’t give chances to English players? Burnley named 10 for the trip to Man City – the first time since 2006 a top-flight XI has included just one foreigner.
If everyone played the same way, football would be so boring it'd be frightening
- Sean Dyche
It all means Burnley have become outliers in the Premier League and throwbacks to a forgone era.
In a league where imitation of styles and systems has become commonplace, their matches often serve up a fascinating clash of styles.
“Let's lose this idea there's only one way of playing,” Dyche said in an interview two seasons ago. “If everyone played the same way football would be so boring it would be frightening.”
Put simply, it’s how Dyche believes he can get the most out of the resources at his disposal. He’s packed the squad with players who fit the system, rather than changed the system to fit the players.
Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes are a potent partnership up front who relish aerial battles and are serious threats from set pieces. Ashley Westwood is a brilliant free-kick and corner taker and Dwight McNeil – the team’s most skilful player – is capable of outstanding delivery from open play.
Behind them, Burnley boast a backline who work together as a single unit to protect Pope – one of the finest shot-stoppers in the division. The collective is prized above the individual and the system provides a platform to allow players to thrive.
What’s made Dyche’s achievement this season all the more remarkable has been that for long stretches, he’s been without both Wood and Barnes – his two top scorers in 2018/19.
Instead Jay Rodriguez and Matej Vydra, who possess very different qualities, have slotted in with great effect and in large part that is down to the team ethos. Rodriguez's seventh league goal of the season was the match-winner against West Ham for example.
The 49-year-old spoke openly about the financial limitations he has to work under, when discussing if star prospect McNeil would be sold sooner rather than later.
“There comes a time when eventually players will leave Burnley because we can only go so far as a club and the club chooses to go so far – whether it be contractually or big fees coming in,” he said.
“I’d be very, very surprised if he doesn’t leave Burnley at some point because someone will come along and knock on our door.
“But that’s the reality of Burnley.”
It’s a reality that saw them lose Jeff Hendrick, Aaron Lennon and Joe Hart a week ago after the club failed to extend their contracts beyond the June expiry dates.
“It’s a question of how far you can keep the journey going,” he mused last month when discussing his future.
Burnley fans will hope the journey still has some way to go yet and continues with a positive result against champions Liverpool on Saturday.