Michael Walker: Old-fashioned values serving Dyche and Burnley well

No-nonsense manager has achieved great things with meagre resources

"I'm not a fashion item." So said Sean Dyche.

He said it this month four years ago when Burnley had just beaten Barnsley 1-0 to end a run of six games without a win. The three points took Burnley back to the top of the Championship.

Four years on, Dyche remains at Turf Moor. He is still built like a bricklayer and strides out like someone about to point out an error in your ways – forcibly so.

But the Burnley manager seemed like a fashion item on Wednesday morning, all right, as English football digested the fact that Burnley's victory over Stoke the night before had the Clarets in a Champions League place.


Dyche’s rasping voice could be heard from every radio, his self-deprecating tone winning our warmth and admiration.

“I’m the proudest man in Proudsville,” he said with a laugh. It will go down as one of the comments of the season.

By Thursday morning Burnley were no longer Champions League fourth, but they are on the same points as the two clubs who overtook them, Tottenham and Liverpool, and as we know, the budget at Turf Moor is rather smaller than at White Hart Lane and Anfield.

Dyche is therefore outperforming his resources in a manner that cannot be said about all managers in the Premier League.

Burnley's record signing is Chris Wood, who cost around £15m from Leeds United in August. Prior to that it had been the £13m paid for Robbie Brady last year. These are not insignificant sums, and indicate that as a club Burnley have matched cautious financial progression with ambition. It's not the £35m Liverpool spent on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, though.

Such sensible evolution is rarely celebrated, possibly because it requires from us a depth of study, but this week was certainly a moment for Burnley and Dyche. For at least a few days the 46 year-old Dyche, who has referred to himself as “the big ginger skinhead fella”, is in vogue.

He is unlikely to be impressed by fleeting glances, but he will enjoy it if we take him and his work seriously.

It is something we should do. Amid the applause for Burnley, there has been some facetious comment about those who have risen before such as George Burley at Ipswich or Alan Curbishley at Charlton.


Where are they now? That is the insinuation, as if what they built was irrelevant. Burley was at Ipswich for eight years and took them into Europe; Curbishley was at Charlton for 13 years and established them in the Premier League. They are now in the third division.

Those achievements were self-determined – not gifted by largesse – and fought for. Ipswich Town and Charlton Athletic appeared to forget that.

It is the same with Dyche and yet there is a condescension surrounding Burnley, that they are one-dimensional, playing slightly smarter Pulis-ball than West Brom or Stoke.

True, there are still periods of Claret grit and attrition, passages when Burnley’s overachievement is either puzzling or a reflection on Premier League standards. But there have also been an increasing number of occasions when Dyche’s team gel with grace as well as effect.

It may have got lost in the media fire blazing from the tunnel at Old Trafford last Sunday but 24 hours earlier, Scott Arfield's goal against Watford at Turf Moor contained precision, delicacy, footwork and calmness. It was an example of the progression of Burnley's football under Dyche.

Arfield, it is worth recalling, played in the victory over Barnsley four years ago. So did Sam Vokes, and Ben Mee, and Tom Heaton. Kevin Long was on the bench. There has been continuity of personnel, of message and manager.

Two others who faced Barnsley – Kieran Trippier and Danny Ings – moved to Tottenham and Liverpool.

So while Dyche has built, he has also rebuilt. But then that is what managers of talent do. It is not a popular option to defend José Mourinho this week but construction is what he did at Porto.

The disdained Sam Allardyce did it at Bolton, the admired Eddie Howe has done it at Bournemouth. Alex Ferguson did it.

When Arsenal drew Ostersunds in the Europa League, there was an immediate focus on the small Swedish club's manager, Graham Potter, and rightly so.

What Potter, Howe, Allardyce and Dyche have in common besides brickwork, is that they have been given time and space by their directors. Dyche was shown patience when, after promotion, Burnley were immediately relegated. Club and manager came to the conclusion that the training ground was an investment priority.

That required literal brickwork and it has gone in tandem with the metaphorical bricks Dyche has cemented in his rising team.

He dismisses the notion of "philosophy" and is probably wary of the idea he has some grasp of magic because he was an apprentice under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest. Dyche, rather, believes in structure and work, values and intelligence. He and Burnley have made bricklaying fashionable.

Willian shows Conte the right attitude

Willian gave a muffled answer when he was asked on TV on Tuesday if he agreed with the assessment of his manager, Antonio Conte, that Chelsea are out of the title race. Willian's reaction was understandable – he was in Huddersfield, he speaks Portuguese and it's December.

A few minutes later, though, Willian was telling the London Evening Standard: "We will never give up".

It was good to hear. Conte's concession of the title after defeat at West Ham was jarring. He may have insisted after victory at Huddersfield that he was merely telling "the truth", that Manchester City are too far ahead.

But it is December and there is over half a season to go. Chelsea are not paupers, they have a squad that won the league in May and, as for tiredness, they have played five games more than at this stage last season. Five games over four months.

Yes, Diego Costa has gone, Nemanja Matic too, but Willian, Hazard, Pedro, Moses and Alonso roamed with menace on Tuesday. Alvaro Morata wasn't there, Cesc Fabregas was on the bench.

Chelsea have a straightforward Christmas, Man City less so. For the sake of competition, let’s hope Chelsea show Willian’s attitude.

Okazaki the ideal team-mate

Shinji Okazaki has seven goals from nine starts for Leicester City this season. It should be eight goals as he would have scored at Newcastle last Saturday but for Ayoze Perez's intervention – which brought Leicester a goal anyway.

Once again introduced from the substitutes’ bench, Okazaki had already affected the game before that goal with is energy and effort. He is tireless and uncomplaining: what a team-mate he must be.