By Mike McGrath
Should Burnley’s ALK Capital owners need assurance over the magnitude of their club’s achievements over the past six campaigns in the Premier League, they need look no further than their opponents on Sunday when they visit Elland Road.
Leeds United have one of the world’s finest coaches in Marcelo Bielsa, a group of talented players and a stadium that gets filled for every home game. Their status in the top flight, though, is far from guaranteed and their injury list suggests it will be a fight for survival, after finishing ninth last season following their return from the English Football League.
“There are challenges of injuries, ups and downs of form, signing players and all that comes with trying to mould and keep remoulding a team every season,” said Sean Dyche, the Burnley manager.
It is a year since ALK took control at Turf Moor and during its tenure in 2021 Burnley were bottom of the table for points among the 92 teams in the Premier League and EFL, not helped by their recent matches being called off by snow and Covid-19 cases.
One of the reasons why there has been no sign of panic from Dyche is that his team have been here before. They have a history of playing catch-up from qualifying for the Europa League and playing qualifiers during early rounds of Premier League fixtures.
They tend to finish the season strongly, with Dyche’s medical staff keeping players available to pick up unlikely points while other teams toil with the fitness of their squads. The question this season is whether there is one more fight left in a group of players who have kept the club in the top flight against the odds.
“The experience and knowledge of it is a good thing but you’re not naive enough to think ‘we’re all right’,” Dyche said. “All right-ness gets you nothing. That is my favourite saying. You need to be way better than all right to make sure you’re looking after yourself. There is a clear-mindedness but you have to go out and earn it.”
ALK’s takeover, one year on, has put Burnley at a crossroads. The arrival of Maxwel Cornet from Lyon marked a shift in transfer policy from Burnley’s usual catchment area of English clubs. The Ivory Coast forward has been a success and they are looking at other foreign signings as well as home-based players.
James Tarkowski is expected to leave as a free agent at the end of the season – the club are determined not to sell him this month, with bids expected to test their resolve – so there will be a change at the heart of their defence. Their recruitment will clearly depend on whether they have dropped into the Championship for the first time since 2015.
Retaining their top-flight status and more Cornet-style signings could also bring about a change in style. Dyche talks about his players taking risks on the ball but the perception is still of a pragmatic team.
“It [relegation] usually ends up being about finance,” Dyche said. “You can argue about the players and the teams going down and coming back stronger. We did that ourselves in the origins of our Premier League years. We went down and built the training ground, came back stronger.
“Monetary-wise there is a gulf, power-wise in the last three seasons we have seen the Championship have a tougher time. The teams that have gone down have been very powerful and have pushed straight away to get up, even though I know it is not easy.
Five or six years ago the top part of the Championship would be very challenging against the bottom part of the Premier League and there has been a bit of a shift.”
ALK has been trying to expand Burnley’s brand and bring in a more corporate feel to Turf Moor. That has been done through some simple alterations such as better private boxes for supporters to lease. Other changes have included the departure of Mike Rigg as technical director. Dyche now focuses totally on football, compared to previously contributing to the business side of the club.
“The biggest change with the remodelling of the office side of things is with the people that run the media, marketing and finance,” Dyche said. “We’re still changing the scouting system and remodelling that.
“The biggest challenge is that the old board would ask me a lot about the other side of the club, whereas the new board say they’ll look after that and you make sure you’re focused on the football side.
“I wouldn’t run the other side of the club but would be involved in the board meeting and say what my thoughts were. It gives me more time on the football side.”