Modest Burnley mixing it with heavyweights in Premier League
The latest side threatening to gatecrash the Premier League’s “Big Six” only pulled clear of relegation danger late last season and then sold two of its best players to make a profit during the transfer window.
Their core values are team spirit and hard work. Their strikers are no-nonsense, hard-running target men — there are no false nines around these parts — and they take pride in the art of defending.
Their atmospheric, 134-year-old ground, with a capacity of 22,500, is in the heart of the local community, offering views of terraced houses in the distance.
Burnley is one of the more unfashionable teams in the world’s richest and most popular league, and it is making a real splash this season.
After 10 games, the Clarets are tied on points with sixth-place Liverpool, with only the Manchester clubs, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal ahead of them. They have won at Chelsea and earned battling draws at Tottenham and Liverpool.
Their gravel-toned manager of five years, Sean Dyche, is having such an impact that he is one of the main contenders to fill the coaching vacancy at Everton following the firing of Ronald Koeman.
They haven’t had it this good at Turf Moor for a generation, arguably since Burnley finished sixth in 1974 before a downturn that saw the club drop out of the top division for 33 years.
“We’re not the market leaders, we have to earn the right for everything we get,” Dyche said this week. “We are earning respect, a side that feels like it can do what the Premier League needs, but there’s still work to be done.”
Burnley was a founding member of Football League in 1888 and has been English champion twice, in 1921 and 1960. It is in its second year back in the Premier League after finishing 16th last season.
Dyche took over the northwest team in 2012 when it was in the bottom half of the second-tier League Championship and has turned Burnley into one of the hardest teams to beat in England.
Go back to the start of the season, though, and Burnley was being tipped for a year-long struggle. Defender Michael Keane and striker Andre Gray were sold for a combined $65 million and the club ended up returning a profit of about $20 million in the transfer window as a whole.
They only avoided relegation last season because of the team’s strong form at home and many wondered if they could keep that up. They have, and they are starting to get results away from Turf Moor, too — starting with the 3-2 victory at champion Chelsea on the opening weekend.
Like Leicester two years ago, when it became an improbable Premier League champion, Burnley is well-organized and excels without the ball, with its midfield working hard to protect the defense. Steven Defour, a Belgium international signed from Anderlecht in 2016, is the most glamorous name in the team and dovetails well with Jack Cork — a recent signing from Swansea — and former record signing Jeff Hendrick in central midfield.
New Zealand striker Chris Wood joined for a club-record fee of 15 million pounds ($19.4 million) in August and has already scored four goals, three in the league.
A flowing 24-pass move that led to a goal from Hendrick in the 1-0 win at Everton showed that Burnley is about more than just grit and efficiency, but the hard-to-watch 1-0 win over Newcastle was more of a default display by Dyche’s team.
It lifted Burnley to the heady heights of seventh place ahead of a trip to Southampton on Saturday. Nobody is expecting a title challenge like Leicester’s in 2015-16, but with a well-established team plan in place and many of their supposedly toughest matches behind them, qualifying for the Europa League might not be a stretch.
Even if he was offered the Everton job, Dyche might be hesitant to leave behind what he is creating Burnley.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80