Going into this season, there was a sense of optimism surrounding Turf Moor. Cornetmania was running wild and the arrival of other smart signings, in particular star centre back Nathan Collins, meant that for the first time in a while, Burnley fans were excited for their future prospects. Fast forward to Gameweek 15. Burnley sit in 18th place, level on points with Newcastle and Norwich below them having taken 1 point from the 6 available in the fixtures against the bottom 2. After 14 games, there were 14 goals scored; 21 goals conceded and a mere 10 points gained. Where had it gone wrong?
It’s important to note that Burnley starting slow in the Premier League is nothing new. One example is in the 2018/19 season, following a dismal performance at home to Everton on Boxing Day leading to a 5-1 thumping, Burnley sat on 12 points from 19 games, 3 points away from safety but feeling far further adrift. However, looking at the league table after 38 games shows that Burnley ended up surviving, finishing on the magical 40 points total, 6 points above the relegation zone. Sean Dyche’s men have a habit of pulling off unlikely feats, so it would be foolish to completely write off Burnley’s survival chances just yet.
Yet, that was a completely different league to now. The quality of the Premier League is constantly improving, with the three relegated clubs being replaced annually with promoted teams, at least one of which usually survives comfortably. In order to survive, clubs need to improve year on year, and this is something that Burnley has struggled with over the past few years. And a lot of this has to be put at the feet of supposed Burnley fan and ex-Chairman, Mike Garlick.
The Garlick Regime
Under Garlick, the club entered into its most successful period since the 1970s, and Garlick deserves a lot of credit for this. The appointment of recently sacked Watford manager Sean Dyche seemed at the time to be a beige, cookie-cutter appointment, one that wouldn’t last long term. However it turned out to be the most important decision in the 21st Century for Burnley. As Sky & BT commentators like to remind people every time a Burnley game is broadcast, the people of Burnley have named a pub after the former Chesterfield and Watford captain, showing the admiration that people have for the man. Almost overnight, the club culture seemed transformed. From the days of having to score 3 goals to get a draw, Sean Dyche solidified the defence, organised the basics and turned Burnley into a team that no one wanted to play against. In the 13/14 Championship season, the Clarets were 3rd favourites for relegation according to the betting odds. They finished 2nd, winning promotion to the Premier League.
Burnley yo-yo’d between the two divisions until the 16/17 season where they finished a respectable 16th, getting 40 points and finishing 6 above the relegation zone. However, due to departures to key men Michael Keane and Andre Gray in the following transfer window, many predicted a return to the Championship for Burnley. However, much like the 13/14 season, Burnley flipped the script.
Thanks to some smart recruitment, including the likes of Chris Wood, Jack Cork, Charlie Taylor and Phil Bardsley, Burnley got the 17/18 season off to a flying start, winning 3-2 away at reigning champions Chelsea. That was a sign of things to come, as Burnley would finish in 7th place, qualifying for the Europa League qualifiers, the club’s first foray into Europe since 1966-67 (or depending on how you view the Inter-Cities Fair Cup, 1960-61). However, this seems to be the turning point in Burnley’s fortune, beginning the slippery slope that hasn’t stopped up until now.
The previous mentioned Summer Transfer Window of 17/18 was a success as it marked the signing of four players who either went straight into the first team or established themselves as first-team players in later years. Yet this was the last time that this was repeated. After finishing in a Europa League spot the season previous, Burnley failed to capitalise on that in the transfer market. The following 6 transfer windows (Garlick’s last at the club) saw a net spend of £33.5 million (an average of £5.6 million per window) spent over thirteen players. Of those thirteen, only Josh Brownhill has managed to establish himself as a regular in Sean Dyche’s side. Five of those players (Peter Crouch, Aaron Lennon, Joe Hart, George-Kevin Nkoudou and Danny Drinkwater) left the club with Burnley receiving no transfer fee, although the last two were loan transfers. Ben Gibson, the club’s record signing at the time, left for half of what Burnley spent for him.
Jay Rodriguez and Matej Vydra have been unable to cement themselves as regulars after being given limited minutes, Erik Pieters was brought in with the explicit role as a backup and whilst he has done a serviceable job, he hasn’t made a significant difference in Burnley’s league position. Dale Stephens hasn’t shown anywhere near the quality required for the Premier League and has spent the entirety of this season on the physio’s table. Will Norris was brought in as and has remained the third-choice goalkeeper and Bailey Peacock-Farrell has been banished to Sheffield Wednesday on loan with his future uncertain. For three years’ worth of transfers for a Premier League club, that is absolutely embarrassing.
Club representatives, never Mike Garlick but usually one of his cronies such as Neil Hart or Mike Rigg, would justify this transfer policy by saying they were running the club to be self-sufficient, and that the lack of quality transfers was down to a lack of money being available for transfers. That’s understandable, admirable even, but did it not occur to Garlick that the cost of relegation would be far more than spending money on a player and his wages?
Year after year, quality players would be passed up due to a lack of ambition from the board, and they would go on to thrive elsewhere. Kalvin Phillips, Nicolas Pepe, Hakim Ziyech, Andy Robertson, Harry Wilson are just a few examples of players that the board couldn’t justify paying an extra couple of million pounds for. Imagine where Burnley could be if the board had shown a lick of ambition? Instead of this, we were forced to rely upon players who would put in a graft but would ultimately not cost a lot because of either age or a lack of quality. It is a testament to Sean Dyche that plenty of players that have come in have significantly improved during their time at the club. Players like Nick Pope, Ashley Westwood, Ashley Barnes and James Tarkowski to name just a few. However, if you rely on this strategy, you’ll always get some duds. Does anyone remember Lukas Jutkiewicz? Nahki Wells? Jon Walters? Chris Long? Thought not. Towards the end of Garlick’s tenure, the relationship had completely broken down and it seems not out of the realm of possibility that Dyche would’ve left at the end of his contract had Garlick stayed, some of his comments made it apparent he was fed up with Garlick.
“I don’t know about our situation budget wise, I very rarely do. So I’ll have to wait and see, but there will need to be adaptations to the market, a push in the market at some point because we quite obviously have got to a very skinny squad. The facts of football are that we will have to invest more money. The shifting sands of football are probably shifting even more than they have done in recent years.”Sean Dyche on Mike Garlick – 2020
The squad is largely the same year upon year and whilst there are positives and negatives to this approach, there need to be some balance. Of the starting 11 against Newcastle, 8 players had been at the club since 2017. The other three being the previously mentioned Josh Brownhill and two signings made under the Alan Pace regime, Nathan Collins and Maxwel Cornet.
Alan Pace seems to be shifting the club in the right direction recruitment wise, bringing in an entirely new scouting system and recruitment staff, which led to the club making the first signing from a foreign club since Steven Defour. Cornet has been a breath of fresh air at Turf Moor and one might suspect that Burnley would be in a hell of a lot more trouble without him considering how flat performances have been without him, looking at the Norwich game in particular where the game could’ve been played for 24 hours and would’ve remained 0-0. However, work is not done. The Clarets are crying out for more, in particular a creative midfielder and a centre forward.
You have to wonder if it’s come too little too late…