Written by Ian Colgan (@Ian_Colgan):
Burnley were ‘unlucky’ not to get at least a point against Manchester City on Nov.26, according to Sean Dyche, who was keen to get across in his post-match interview that he was pleased with the performance if not the result.
“That was a great marker today, after what happened last Monday,” he told BT Sport. “We know we have to take that on the road, but today I was delighted and equally so with the crowd’s reaction.”
It was Burley’s second consecutive defeat, and though they’ve gone from fourth favourites for relegation to third favourites over the last two weeks, the last time they were in the Premier League it took them 20 games to gain as many points as they have now after 13...and with Bournemouth, West Ham, Middlesbrough, and Sunderland all to be faced between now and December 31st, there’s a healthy chance of Burnley (on 14 points now) going into January with over 20 points, which would give them a decent chance of staying around a while longer than they did last time.
“I think it’s a solid start,” Dyche said back in October. “A lot was made the last time in the Premier League of not winning the first game and we got that one out of the way early doors with a hard fought win against Liverpool.”
Dyche himself, a 45-year-old former Chesterfield defender from Kettering, has been in management for just five years and is already regarded as one of the most underrated managers in English football. Operating in a league with only six other British managers, for most people he lacks the appeal of an Eddie Howe or the widespread respect of a Tony Pulis, but there are a lot of people who say this will be the season where Dyche gets the recognition he deserves.
Going down as noble losers in 2014/15 without ever climbing higher than 17th all season, Burnley kept their faith in Dyche who steered them to an instant promotion as Championship title winners in 2015/16, and he appears to have taken whatever lessons he got in 2014/15 to heart. It was only a few weeks ago that Burnley were within four points of 6th place Everton, and even now they’re only five points from 8th.
Burly and shaven-headed with a red circle-beard, Dyche looks more like a retired heavyweight boxer than a football manager. The press like him, because he talks straight and has a sense of humour, and does things like answer journalists’ phones during press conferences, but nobody has been able to properly categorise him. With a healthy disregard for stylistic trends and words like ‘philosophy’, and a grievance about British managers not getting the credit they deserve, he’s a young up-and-coming manager regarded as being closer to an Allardyce/throwback model than a trendy Howe...but he would also shirk that Big Sam comparison, and when it’s made he just shrugs it off.
He would consider himself to be very much his ‘own man’, not a disciple of any school of thought or proponent of any particular style other than whatever working model is right for the players he has to work with. The act of buying certain players to fit into a rigid system, or going into a dressing room to preach about how he wants his team to play out from the back and keep the ball on the floor, would embarrass Dyche.
In an era when most young managers are trying to emulate Guardiola or instil their teams with a distinctive style, Dyche is comfortable being an anti-Guardiola of some kind – a man without any apparent dogma or clear beliefs about how the game should be played beyond the pure and simple ideas of loyalty, disciplined defensive shape, a strong mentality, hard work, and steadfast faith in the essential atavistic merits of the 4-4-2 system. Dyche’s main strength as a coach is thought to lie in his ability to ‘drill’ his players and make them want to play for him; to not overwork their brains and man-manage them well so that they’re intensely motivated.
It’s hard to know what Dyche would make of that appraisal. He’s a man who said in an interview with The Telegraph a while ago that “football management is about managing people...I don’t use words like philosophy, that sort of stuff isn’t for me.”...Which may be true, but nor would Dyche consider it fair if he were to be lambasted as a tactical philistine, a label that’s dogged many a British coach – sometimes unfairly – and that Dyche would resent as a manager who employs very basic tactics in an era where it’s unfashionable not to be dogmatic about style.
“There is a thirst for foreign coaches who are always tactical geniuses,” Dyche said back in August. “[Antonio] Conte came in at Chelsea and got commended for bringing a hard, fast, new leadership which involved doing 800m runs, 400m runs, 200m runs. Come to my training and see Sean Dyche doing that and you’d say ‘dinosaur, a young English dinosaur manager, hasn’t got a clue’.”
Many interpreted those remarks as a direct swipe at Conte, a defiant stand that said “Well, if I’m a dinosaur, then so is he,”...but Dyche’s mention of Conte was incidental. What he was really trying to take aim at was the prevailing perception and attitude when it comes to all foreign managers; the assumption that a manager from mainland Europe or South America is automatically considered to be more tactically sophisticated and superior than his British counterpart, to the point where even their very rudimentary and ‘British-style’ training methods and tactics are seen as exotic innovations.
Dyche wasn’t being critical of Conte’s methods – he would probably agree with them. He was just wrong in thinking that Conte’s nationality had anything to do why he gets so much praise. The point he seemed to be trying to make was that Conte wouldn’t be as widely celebrated if his name was Jim Jones and he came from Coventry...But the essential flaw in his argument was that that wouldn’t necessarily be true if Jim Jones had also won three league titles in Italy, or if Jones had taken over a team that finished 10th last season and now had them top of the league.
“There are dinosaurs and geniuses in all departments all over the world – in Italy, England, Argentina, Spain, Germany,” Conte responded. “You have to understand who is the dinosaur and who is the genius. That’s what you have to judge.”
In truth, Conte was a bad example, and Dyche’s point might have been better made if he’d named a foreign coach who wasn’t also considered to be one of the best in Europe...He’s also mentioned Jurgen Klopp, saying that Klopp “came in and played sort of a 4-4-2 and let's run really hard and press, people thought it was incredible...wasn't Sean Dyche doing that years ago when he got here? Oh well’.”
Maybe so...But the difference between Liverpool’s pressing game and those who try to emulate it without grasping the cerebral, highly coordinated workings of it, is the difference between fire and the firefly. There’s a reason why Klopp’s teams have been held up as a perfect model of the ‘counter press’, and his nationality doesn’t have much to do with it.
Dyche was understandably backed up by Pulis, who said "That's the way it is, they (foreign managers) come into the country, they're sexy, they're new, they're bright. That's fine, brilliant, not a problem for me. I'll listen to them, they say Klopp trains them three times a day in pre-season, absolutely amazing. I'd never have thought of that. That's what Sean's on about, they do stuff that is astonishing that we've 'never heard of'."
Right...’No problem’ for Pulis, or for Dyche, for that matter...Just something they’ve both felt the need to complain about in public. There’s a degree of foreign favouritism among some Premier League club owners and chairmen, but the point Dyche and Pulis miss is that neither Conte nor Klopp get the praise they do because they’re foreign. They get it because they’ve won titles, and their teams happen to play some of the most attractive football in the country. Running and pressing are essential components of Klopp’s style, and though triple training sessions might be a necessary means to achieving it, to put their acclaim down to a foreign nationality would be to oversimplify matters.
Thinking on it for a while, I’ve come to realise that this is the only thing about Dyche that bothers me. You can’t set yourself up as the anti-Guardiola by rejecting all pretences of having any playing philosophy or identity, and then get to bitch and complain when managers like Guardiola and Klopp get credit for their achievements.