LONDON – The Visit Lancashire website lists as one of the things to see in Burnley as the “iconic Singing Ringing Tree which towers high above Burnley on Crown Point Moor and has been named in the top 10 pieces of ‘sound art’ in the world.”
The success of Burnley FC has given the town a new dynamic. It is now so glamorous that one of its nightclubs has been involved in a legal dispute with an internationally renowned fashion magazine. Vogue (the magazine) ordered Vogue (the club in Burnley) to change its name, citing trademark infringement.
Owner Jason McQuoid complied and the nightclub is currently listed on Twitter as “Burnley Nightclub With No Name.”
People are talking about Burnley — the football club — very positively, but the inevitable knock-on effect of the feel-good factor created by Sean Dyche’s hugely impressive team has given the market town almost a new identity.
Manchester City is setting new records with every goal and victory, but the story of the season is Burnley, tipped by many for relegation last August. Four months later Burnley has its sights on a place in next season’s Europa League, a remarkable turnaround for a club which had spent only three of the last 41 campaigns in the English top flight.
Dyche spent just one season as manager of Watford, which finished 11th in the Championship in 2011-12, its best finish for four years. A change of ownership meant a premature end for Dyche at Vicarage Road, because almost the first act of the Pozzo family after its takeover was to replace him with Gianfranco Zola.
Watford’s loss was Burnley’s gain and Dyche is proving you do not need a billionaire owner to rub shoulders with the Premier League’s super-rich.
Last summer Burnley sold two of its best players in Michael Keane and Andre Gray to Everton and Watford, respectively. Despite spending £15 million on New Zealand international striker Chris Wood, Burnley managed to turn a profit of £10 million on the transfer window deals.
Selling key players for big fees and replacing them with cheaper but highly effective options is an incredibly difficult task, but one that Dyche has almost made an art form.
For Dyche, sustainability must go hand in hand with any success. He said: “At my first board meeting here, I asked them what did you do with the Premier League finance from the last promotion? What did you do physically to improve things? They had no money left, it was gone. I said you can’t do that again. You’ve got to do something with the money. You’ve got to put things in place for the future, to try to build something. It couldn’t just be thrown at putting a team out on the pitch and hoping for the best. There was a reality from the board. If you go back to the last time we were in the Premier League (in 2014) we spent £10 million on players, but we also built a training ground and did the stadium up.”
Burnley’s average weekly wage is £18,000, which is less than the daily rate of some of the Premier League’s big hitters. In the last published annual wage accounts Burnley’s was £27.1 million, Liverpool’s was £208.3 million, Arsenal’s was £199.4 million and Tottenham’s was £100 million.
While Burnley has scored only 16 goals in 17 matches it has countered this with the third-meanest defense in the league — only Manchester City and Manchester United have conceded fewer — winning six games 1-0.
Burnley lost England goalkeeper Tom Heaton to a long-term shoulder injury in September, but Nick Pope, who had never played in the Premier League, has been outstanding. The central defensive partnership of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski has been excellent, though if any individual player epitomizes Burnley it is playmaker Steven Defour.
The emphasis in midfield had been more blood and thunder, but the Belgian who cost £7.5 million from Anderlecht last summer has added a touch of class.
Dyche favors a no-nonsense, low-risk style of defending and Burnley has the second-most clearances and the highest amount of long passes in the league. He prefers quick passing rather than running at the opposition with the ball to reduce the chances of losing possession.
Wide players Robbie Brady, currently injured, and Matt Lowton are the source of most crosses to Wood and Sam Vokes. Dyche’s style may be the polar opposite of Pep Guardiola’s City slickers, but Burnley is certainly not one-dimensional and victory against Brighton on Saturday could see the claret and blues end the weekend in fourth position.
Dyche, whose voice gives the impression he gargles with gravel, is a belt and braces, down-to-earth no-frills manager. Burnley trains as it plays on match days. No bobble-hats, no gloves, no track-suit bottoms, just a training kit whatever the weather.
When Burnley plays on the road, players wear club track suits, club trainers, club socks and no headphones. Dyche believes that players talking to each other is better than them listening to a group he would probably never have heard of.
Burnley has used fewer players than any other Premier League club, Dyche favoring continuity rather than rotation, which most managers are addicted to.
Given his success it is puzzling that Dyche is still at Burnley. He should not be pigeon-holed as a small club manager who can only operate at the lower end of the transfer market, because he does that so well it is surely logical his judgment would be every bit as good with a bigger budget.
For the time being, Dyche has made Burnley sexy and the words “Burnley” and “sexy” probably never appeared in the same sentence before the 46-year-old arrived in town.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.