Guardian writers’ predicted position: 19th (NB: this is not necessarily Nick Miller’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)
Last season’s position: 1st (Championship)
Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 1,000-1
It is not news that life in the Premier League can be tough for a promoted side, but the summer that two of the three coming up from the Championship have endured has brought that into pretty stark focus. Steve Bruce made good on a longstanding warning by resigning from Hull City, after a lack of action in the transfer market, and although things at Burnley are not quite at that stage, you could forgive Sean Dyche for wonderingif promotion last season was worth the bother.
The season is less than two weeks away, and Burnley’s squad for the Premier League is currently weaker than it was in the Championship. Joey Barton left on a free transfer, Michael Duff has taken a coaching role, a few other squad players have been released and only the Charlton pair Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Nick Pope have come in. Throw in Leicester’s pursuit of the central defender Michael Keane and a few unconvincing offers for some Football League midfielders, and you’ve got a transfer window to file under “frustrating”.
This is, to say the least, not ideal, particularly when one considers the business that Middlesbrough, the third promoted side, have under their belts. Burnley might not have the financial muscle to sign Víctor Valdés, Álvaro Negredo or Viktor Fischer, but a little more help would be nice. Other than the two signings (neither definite Premier League first-teamers), their most significant business has been the purchase of some new floodlights. In fairness, they are 11m taller than the previous ones, so that should be a boost.
Burnley obviously do not have a collection of jokers clogging up their squad. Andre Gray was the Championship’s player of the season, George Boyd is delightfully consistent and there is a reason the Premier League champions want Keane so much. They won the Championship last season because they were the best team in the division, if not always the most free-flowing, attractive outfit. Nobody scored more goals and only one team conceded fewer. No side won more games and their last defeat came on Boxing Day. In the closing weeks of the season the scrap for automatic promotion was a three-way battle between them, Boro and Brighton, but the Clarets stayed strong while the others spluttered towards the line.
This was perhaps a testament to Dyche’s management and the steely nature his sides are imbued with. In the spring it did for a while look as if they were running out of steam: performances dropped and points were collected in less than convincing fashion, but the crucial word is “collected”. In the Championship, you do not need sparkling performances when you drop only 14 points in the second half of the season.
But still, winning the second tier does not necessarily mean you will be any good in the first, especially if you retain a “short arms, long pockets” policy when it comes to buying players. Perhaps the neatest summary of Burnley’s approach to transfer business this summer was their £3m opening bid for Derby midfielder Jeff Hendrick. This is a player aged 24, who was one of the better midfielders in the Championship last season, an international with 25 caps who has just enjoyed a fine Euro 2016 with Ireland. Of course, this was just a first offer, a toe in the water, but if Burnley expected any other response rather than being heartily laughed at then they have a curious view of the transfer market. Three offers for the Brighton midfielder Dale Stephens have also reportedly been dismissed as substandard, so it was no wonder Dyche gave the board, shall we say, a gentle nudge after a recent friendly.
“The chairman and the board have told me there are certain parameters and guidelines and I have told them the targets we want and it’s down to them now,” Dyche said. “We know we have to add to the quality level and we are looking to do that. I’ve told the board the type of quality we need and the players we need and the chairman is working actively to try and get them over the line. It’s down to him now to find the finance for the deals.”
The big problem Burnley have is they need to spend money not simply to progress but to tread water: one only has to look at Bournemouth, who have lashed a chunky £15m on Jordon Ibe and presumably will not stop there, to see what they have to keep up with. Modest additions might be financially prudent, but you have to wonder about the intentions and, dare we say it, ambitions of a club who stick to their parsimonious approach so consistently. It goes without saying that the sums demanded by clubs, players and agents passed the “absurd” level some time ago, but at some point you surely need to hold your nose and pay up.
The odd thing is that Burnley have very recent evidence that this approach is, at best, a gamble and, at worst, simply does not work. The last time they were in the Premier League, in 2014-15, their transfer business was similarly low-key, recruiting Boyd (who admittedly turned out to be a bargain at £3m), Lukas Jutkiewicz, Keane and a few others, spending around £10m in total. They were relegated with two games to spare, with only 33 points, four of which were gained when the jig was already up. Gone from that squad are Kieran Trippier, Jason Shackell and Danny Ings, and while all three have been replaced solidly you would struggle to argue they have a better first team now.
What is perhaps even more curious is that they were perfectly prepared to splash out while in the Championship last season. Gray turned out to be money superbly spent, but eyebrows were raised at the initial cost of £6m, rising to nearer £10m, for a player with only one season in the Football League behind him. They were proved correct, but the point is they took a financial gamble on talent, something they seem more reluctant to do this year, and certainly have not yet.
One might think there is no need to panic, that there is still plenty of time left in the transfer window in which to do business. After all, Gray and Barton were recruited late on last term, and that turned out pretty well. But two seasons ago they started slowly, waiting until November for their first win, could not recover and never got higher than 17th in the table. They need all the help they can get, as early as they can get it. Still, while they have Dyche in charge they should have a puncher’s chance. The Wetherspoons bouncer lookalike is a fine manager and one who is improving and evolving, even if one wonders if he will be able to get away with being wedded to his favoured 4-4-2 system all season.
With Gray in the team they should at least score more than their rather puny total of 28 goals in 2014-15, and if their defence stays together they should be fairly solid. But this is a thin squad that needs some pretty serious beefing up. In some ways being sensible with one’s money is to be applauded in a football world that so often wantonly sprays cash around, but the purse strings have to loosen, and pretty soon. Otherwise Burnley and Dyche could be in for another season of admirable failure, when they are potentially capable of much more.
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