“I think you get judged against the game now. What are you doing against the norms of the game? I’m not really bothered. Why should football teams only play one way? They simply won’t because not everyone can do the same thing.” – Sean Dyche
The Burnley boss has long faced criticism of his team’s style of play. For a while, he railed against it. Now, he appears to have accepted it. But as his comment about ‘the norms of the game’ suggests – it is misleading to claim that not everyone can do the same thing. There is a growing feeling in the Premier League that almost everyone else is doing just that.
It was the subject of a recent discussion on Monday Night Football about the trend for teams to take their goal-kicks short rather than knock the ball long as was once customary. “Any manager now, whether they believe in playing like this or not, I think they’ll feel forced,” said Gary Neville. “If you don’t play out from the back you’ll be labelled a dinosaur.”
It is a risk that Dyche is prepared to run in the hope of continuing to overachieve with Burnley. The season was only five games old when goalkeeper Nick Pope became the first player to hit 100 unsuccessful long passes this season. Nobody else had hit 80 at the time. So far this season, Pope has hit 89 per cent of his passes long – more than anyone else.
The England international has not gone rogue here. It is part of the plan. Burnley play by far the highest percentage of long passes of any team in the Premier League – 23.5 per cent in total. The most by any other team in the competition is 19.6 per cent by newly-promoted Sheffield United. There is a marked difference in approach between Burnley and the rest.
Dyche feels his team have learnt from last season after a 1-0 win over Everton
Instead, Dyche has decided that his Burnley team cannot do this – and because they cannot do it he has a duty to make sure they do not do it. He takes his responsibilities too seriously to do anything other than what he feels is optimum for his side. “If I went to a different club with different skill sets, trust me, I’d play a different way,” he has said. A true pragmatist?
What is fascinating nevertheless is that Dyche is the only man to reach his particular conclusion on how to win. Do others see it differently or is Neville right that they feel pressured into the kind of groupthink that encourages them to play into the hands of the biggest clubs. Perhaps Dyche is just the only coach willing to follow his logic through.