Burnley’s rise from relegation dead certs to European contenders last season was a surprising sub-plot which left many rooting for the Lancashire outfit.
A seventh place finish confounded all expectations. With Europe in the bag and Turf Moor nailed on as one of the toughest away days in the division, most tipped Burnley to once again defy the odds and maintain their excellent form in 18/19.
This season has proved to be anything but another masterclass by Burnley though. They have endured a miserable run which has seen them win just four games and score just 19 times in 20 games.
Far from building up on a strong base, their foundations appear to have been made of sand. Sean Dyche’s side has been washed away to the never reaches of the relegation zone. A lack of investment in the summer has eroded their achievements with a startling speed and threatens to derail all of their good work and achievements from last season.
The Premier League can be a chaotic place. Chairmen of football clubs operating in the most lucrative of leagues, will feel no hesitation to dispose of managers if they feel their place is threatened at the top table.
It doesn’t matter about previous results, reputation or achievements to these money-centric folk. The turbulence and uncertainty unleashed by their decisions to hire and fire are necessary evils, by-products of clubs trying to maintain their Premier League wealth. Last season was a great example of this as a host of clubs churned through coaches.
West Ham, West Brom, Everton, Palace and Leicester all sacked their managers before the halfway stage of last season. In such a particularly chaotic landscape, Burnley had been left to go under the radar and flourished. Their well drilled style under Sean Dyche saw them take advantage.
Framed in this context, Burnley’s excellent form last season, starts to make a lot more sense. Momentum stayed with them and they were able to stay above bigger clubs that could easily out muscle them in the transfer market.
The likes of West Ham, Everton and Leicester City will have been bitterly disappointed to finish below a club that they could comfortably outspend. They will have looked at the Lancashire side’s European qualification with bewilderment and frustration.
Therein lies the lesson for Burnley. While they were enjoying the kudos of their success, their rival clubs were opening their wallets and planning major overhauls of their squads.
Sean Dyche complained bitterly in the summer about a struggle to sign players for reasonable sums, but you cannot but feel there was naivety in the engine room at Turf Moor.
The Premier League offers huge revenue streams and commercial opportunity. Any foreign or domestic lower league club will have been aware of this. Price hikes and dwindling value are inevitable. The hierarchy at Burnley should have surely anticipated and planned for such a summer transfer window, when identifying key targets. Crucially, these market conditions don’t seem to have deterred their rivals.
Leicester, Everton and West Ham all recruited heavily, while newly promoted Wolves and Fulham, also spent huge sums: £62 and £110 million respectively, on their new Premier League squads. In total, fourteen clubs outspent Burnley in summer 2018.
An outlay of just under £30 million on four players has seen their squad fall way behind the required levels. Joe Hart, Ben Gibson, Matej Vydra and Vinnie Steels are hardly the show stopping signings to spur a club on to another level. The grim reality of Burnley’s current league standing is that they simply stood still and allowed their rivals to surpass them.
While their resources may not be as plentiful as their other league rivals, they are now in their third straight season as a top flight club and have had plenty of time to accrue and grow revenue. Prudence is not a crime, but it is a bit of a risk to your Premier League ambitions.
A European hangover was offered as an excuse early on for their ropey form, but 20 games in you cannot seriously point to a handful of additional fixtures as the route cause of their failings. A woeful defensive record and dwindling home form are proof that the club has gone backwards.
If Burnley are to survive, they will need to go some way to reverse this chronic lack of investment. You need a constant flow of signings to keep the current crop on their toes and performing. Nobody was expecting them to dangerously outspend their rivals, but their cautious transfer policy now looks a massive risk. Relegation could well be the price they have to pay in May.