An endgame seems to be approaching at Burnley, where Sean Dyche has expressed frustration at the tightness of the purse strings even as the club climbed into the top half of the Premier League table after another season of punching above their weight.
The manager is ostensibly unhappy that too many out-of-contract players have been allowed to leave without arrangements made to help tide the club over for the remainder of the restarted season.
Dyche has managed to secure the 35-year-old Phil Bardsley on a one-year extension but that appears to be the limit of the board’s present generosity. Joe Hart, Aaron Lennon and Jeff Hendrick are gone, and with Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood, Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Robbie Brady all injured, Burnley could manage only a seven-man bench at Crystal Palace on Monday and two of those were inexperienced goalkeepers.
Despite their lack of numbers Burnley won quite comfortably, which says a lot for the quality of the players Dyche still has at his disposal and the manager’s ability to deploy them effectively. It is well known Burnley are a model of how to succeed on limited resources, though equally obvious that money rather than magic beans will be needed if the club’s status is to be maintained.
From the outside it looks as though the club are ungrateful for the remarkable results Dyche has achieved, intent on keeping outgoings as low as possible even though a five-year stay in the Premier League has boosted the coffers considerably. Although perhaps that is how the manager wants it to look. “Everyone keeps talking about my future, apart from me,” he said after the Palace victory. “I’m just getting on with my job, as I always do.”
Possibly so, though there would be less speculation if he had not let it be known he was unhappy with some of his board’s recent decisions, or made a point of insisting last week that the club’s financial position was extremely healthy. Dyche and Burnley have been so good for each other that for most of the last eight years it was tricky to see how a breakup might come about.
It is still a little early to conclude this will be the manager’s last season at Turf Moor, though it is now possible to see how it may happen: Dyche gets a better offer at the end of the season and takes it, leaving the supporters angry with the board for not giving him the backing he deserved.
Had football not been operating behind closed doors for the past couple of weeks some sort of terrace protest at Burnley might have been registered already. Driving to the Watford game last week past The Royal Dyche, the pub across the road from the ground that has changed its name in appreciation of the manager, a couple of lads were hoisting a “sack the board” banner.
In point of fact, boards very rarely sack themselves, though the present Burnley regime may consider such action should Dyche leave, because they will be the ones tasked with replacing him and the vacuum will be enormous. Early suggestions Mark Hughes could be in the frame were greeted with outright derision on social media platforms.
But will Dyche leave? He is probably ready for a change should the right offer come in but he has been in this position before when situations at Everton and Leicester became vacant. His name was mentioned in connection with both clubs. He could surely have made more of an impression at Everton than Marco Silva, though that avenue is now closed with Carlo Ancelotti in place. Leicester would have been right up Dyche’s street, with his strong east-Midlands connections, but that vacancyalso appears to have been filled for the foreseeable future.
The most obvious, logical destination for Dyche would be Aston Villa but at present there is no vacancy
Given that Dyche is unlikely to be sent for by any of the seven teams above Burnley at the moment owing to his lack of European experience and unfamiliarity with elite players and super agents, it is not at all obvious where the manager might look to take a step up in life. He keeps being linked with West Ham, though mainly because that club is almost permanently on the lookout for a new manager. At least that would be a bigger club in terms of perceived status and support, even if most of the fans spend most of their time expressing discontent with their owners and their stadium.
Plus, West Ham could be in the Championship next season, and while Dyche has shown he is just the man for promotion and Premier League stickability he does not necessarily want to do it all over again at this stage of his career. Newcastle might be an ideal fit in normal circumstances – not that many people on Tyneside can remember those – but the consensus seems to be that if a takeover ever goes through an A-list manager will be brought in to make the club more attractive to overseas players. Dyche is not yet that sort of name.
The most obvious, logical destination would be Aston Villa, a big city club with unlimited potential that would strike anyone as the most conspicuous sleeping giant in the present bottom three, except there is not yet a vacancy at Villa. The club’s finances can only have been stretched by their massive spend last summer and unless results can be turned around very soon, a quick return to the Championship beckons.
Timing is everything in these matters. Dyche has more than proved himself as a capable Premier League manager and has reached a stage where even Burnley fans would not begrudge him a move that advanced his career. Yet that is only half the equation. The rest depends on an opportunity arising at the right club at the right time.
There are not that many doors open that look upwards, as Dyche already knows. Only Frank Lampard’s first season at Chelsea is preventing Dyche being the leading English manager at the moment in terms of league placings. It is not an unfamiliar situation either. Even so, if he gets a move it will still most likely be sideways, downwards, or abroad.