A sizeable chapter in Burnley’s history books will be forever devoted to Sean Dyche, following his historic efforts last season, but as the Premier League’s highest-placed English manager begins his new campaign on Thursday, he is facing the prospect that life may currently be as good as it will ever get for the famous old club.
Burnley, last season’s surprise seventh-placed finishers, play their first European tie in 52 years when they visit Aberdeen in the second qualifying round of the Europa League this week.
But, whatever success their European endeavours provide, it is Burnley’s League form that will come under closest scrutiny as friend and foe alike wait to see if Dyche can match the achievements of last season.
“It might well be seventh is the highest Burnley can ever finish, we don’t know yet,” said Dyche, ever the pragmatist.
“Seventh isn’t the highest ‘possible’, it might be the highest ‘probable’. The possibilities are endless, we all saw that when Leicester blew the roof off.
“Probably, it is difficult to go beyond seventh in this division when you are us. And a number of other clubs could say the same. Because the top six are that powerful, I think. But you never know. When I came here none of this was envisaged.
“Staying in the Premier League is a start point because that’s the minimum objective you want to get to – beyond that who knows?
“The challenge we are trying to cement is being a recognised Premier League team. That’s the challenge. Anything beyond that is either a good season or a bad season.
“‘Recognised’ is year on year on year, when people just get used to you being in there. We’re not there yet. There are a handful of clubs who are not there yet. Very few clubs outside the top six have got a gimme.
“That’s not being negative, that’s just the reality of us in this division. As a club we have looked at the likes of Stoke and West Brom in the past, seen what they have done, and tried to do the same, to move the club forward and grow a bit each season.
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“We have to try and grow because it’s highly unlikely we will ever have to sort of financial backer who will let us have anything we like.”
Dyche citing the examples of Stoke and West Brom as clubs that Burnley have tried to emulate is especially poignant given that the two were, somewhat surprisingly, relegated last season. Throw in the experiences last season of Everton, whose Europa League interests clearly hampered their Premier League form and hastened the departure of manager Ronald Koeman, and Dyche would be forgiven for facing the new season with some trepidation, especially with European commitments.
“You finish the season on a high then the doom and gloom starts about the number of extra games,” he said.
“But I think it has to be recognised that, for a club of this size, this is a massive jump. Not many people at the beginning of last season gave us a chance of finishing seventh. Clubs like this one almost have to go back to the start point each season to remodel it again.
“Because there’s not a given in the Premier League, we saw that last season with West Brom and Stoke. I don’t think anyone a year ago was thinking they would struggle like they did. No one thought that.”
“Remodelling” in Dyche’s case has come in the form of astute transfer dealings over his near six years in charge at Turf Moor, with the potential for a European run adding even more importance to this summer’s recruitment.
Yet, with less than three weeks to the end of this transfer window, Dyche has yet to complete a signing despite the glaring need to strengthen his squad.
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“First things first, we have to get some players in, because we are definitely short at the moment,” said Dyche. “Once we get the first targets in we can think about bulking up the squad with players who can help us. But patience is a mindset in this part of the world.”
To complicate Dyche’s summer personnel decisions even further, the Burnley manager also faces the potential headache of entering the new season with two England squad goalkeepers at his disposal in Nick Pope, a back-up in Russia, and Tom Heaton, who missed all but four games last season through injury.
“Everyone was asking about that last season,” he said. “The thing with goalkeepers is they do know their own world. They know only one of them can play. They equally know, as Tom knows from last season, how quickly that changes. Sometimes it changes quickly. Other times it doesn’t change for a long time.
“‘Popey’ has been given a bit of extra time off and he’ll be here next week, but Tom is a great servant and a great goalkeeper. So we will monitor that accordingly.”