While a British manager was about to be sacked down the road at Manchester United, Burnley achieved a remarkable feat at Turf Moor on Monday – achieving promotion to the Premier League with a squad made up almost entirely of players from the British Isles.
Manager Sean Dyche was given a raw deal at Watford – sacked by the club’s new Italian owners in the summer of 2012 despite overachieving with an underfunded club. But Dyche moved on and the Clarets have benefited from his wise management. Local ownership has kept the club wholesome and likable for all neutrals.
Last season, Charlie Austin’s goals essentially kept Burnley in the Championship and when he was sold for a £4m fee to QPR over the summer the Clarets were pegged for relegation by some experts. Austin’s move was supposed to seal QPR’s promotion, but instead Harry Redknapp’s side, which has continued to spend lavishly, is confined to the promotion playoffs while Burnley goes straight up.
With little cash to spend, Dyche relied on Danny Ings and Sam Vokes for goals and with the ex-Manchester City youth product Kieran Trippier for pace and creativity on the right side of midfield. Dyche was able to secure Michael Kightly on loan from Stoke City and his performances have helped stimulate the attack from wide areas all season.
Burnley faces a tough decision this summer. With a more lucrative TV deal than the previous season the club spent in the Premier League, some funds will be available. The question is how the Clarets upgrade the squad. Do they take a risk on a few continental players who might be decently priced but may not settle or do they enter the market for other British players?
One model might be to replicate Paul Lambert’s buying strategy at Norwich during the 2011-12 season. The Canaries, having just come up to the Premier League after successive promotions, bought largely from the Championship and League One. Maximizing resources saw Lambert’s side put together a virtual all-star case of Football League standouts. This side was successful in avoiding a relegation fight and ultimately Lambert and his staff were rewarded with a move to Aston Villa.
Dyche ultimately must make some difficult decisions. His success with this season’s squad was down to savvy man management and the development of a unique team spirit. Next season, though Burnley must upgrade the roster while maintaining the type of soul of the club that helped carry the side to promotion.
Burnley is a club whose supporters have always preferred a setup that was open and entertaining. But Dyche is a pragmatist unlike Owen Coyle who steered the Clarets up for the 2009-10 Premier League season, and thus Turf Moor could be a mini-fortress next season if practical buys that stress defense first take place.
While lots of question surround Burnley’s summer, the achievement of the club to reach the Premier League on a limited budget after selling its best player to a league rival cannot be underestimated. The fact that this achievement unlike so many in soccer was built entirely in Britain is even more remarkable.