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Is this going to be a potential season to forget for Burnley?

The dystopian COVID-19 section of the seemingly never-ending 2019/20 Premier League season gave Burnley fans every reason possible to be optimistic about the new campaign. Having started 2020 with a dismal 2-1 home loss to relegation threatened Aston Villa, the Clarets proceeded to lose just three more league games until its conclusion. As a result, yet another top half finish was achieved by the club on a miniscule budget; and with a net spend of just under £10m for the 2019/20 season – posting a profit of £45m before tax the season prior – the Clarets’ faithful had every right to believe that the summer of 2020 was going to be full of promise, spending and advancement in terms of cementing Burnley’s place as an established Premier League team.

Having had goalkeeper Nick Pope (almost) achieve the most clean sheets in the league, alongside Chris Wood firing in over ten league goals for the third season running and the exponential development of Dwight McNeil and Charlie Taylor, things were looking rosy for the Turf Moor outfit. However, fast forward less than three months and the general consensus amongst the fans is that the club is on a fast-track pass to relegation. Just where did it all go wrong?

Sean Dyche and Mike Garlick in 2018 when they were on the same page

As obvious as it sounds, teams in the Premier League have had no option but to spend wisely in this COVID-19 recession dominated summer. Just like in any other business, costs have had to be kept to a minimum as income has suffered greatly. Apart from Chelsea (who have only spent vast amounts this summer due to their 2019 transfer ban and sale of Eden Hazard), there are only one or two top-flight clubs who have spent above the norm. However, Burnley have taken matters to the opposite extreme.

The rot began midway through Project Restart, when initially five senior players were thrown into the scrapheap by the Clarets’ following the expiration of their contracts. The most obvious name on the list was once-record signing Jeff Hendrick, who after four stellar years at Turf Moor left without a goodbye to fans, much to the dismay of gaffer Sean Dyche, who saw him as a key part of his plans. Although the departures of Aaron Lennon, Joe Hart and Adam Legzdzins were expected, the fans had no problem with them leaving on the basis that they were to be replaced over the summer.

Rumours quickly began to surface that there were murmurs of discontent in the offices at Turf Moor; the carelessness of running down Hendrick’s contract whilst the club was already penny-pinching was baffling to say the least. Dyche worked miracles for the rest of the season, and after looking reassured over spending in his interviews towards the end, this gave Burnley fans renewed hope for what was to come over the summer transfer window.

Every supporter intuitively loves the summer transfer window: a football fan’s haven for speculation, debate and rumours about who may end up where. As soon as the season ends, fans wax lyrical about who they may or may not sign as speculation from the press increases as the weeks go on; especially at the bigger English clubs, where the debate rages on far and wide as they look to bring in the best footballing talent from across the continent. Yet, at Burnley, there seems to be a reluctance to shop outside of our shores for top footballing ability. As divisional rivals Aston Villa, Leeds and West Ham strengthened with multi million midfielders from France, Spain and Czech Republic respectively over the summer, Burnley’s only imported first team member is a 31 year old fringe player from Brighton – Dale Stephens – for a measly £1m. This isn’t to say that all English midfielders signed are failures; Josh Brownhill, Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood have all done very well in their stints at Turf Moor so far, and there is every chance that Stephens will do well in Lancashire too. However, if the club want to progress, they shouldn’t be signing players who cannot force their way into the first team at divisional rivals such as Brighton.

No matter how many ‘reported’ targets that Head of Recruitment Mike Rigg has apparently thrown at Dyche and owner Mike Garlick, the three have never been on the same page when it comes to incomings. Dyche seems to like his British players who can fit straight into the system, Garlick has a reluctance to open his wallet, and Rigg’s appointment therefore seems to be all the more baffling given that Burnley haven’t signed a first team player from abroad since the majestic Steven Defour waltzed in from Belgium.

However, as the financial spending power of English teams increases annually – and therefore transfer fees rise rapidly within the British game – it seems as though Burnley are standing still in a rapidly changing scenario; something they cannot afford to do; and this means they must implement a strategy based around spending abroad in leagues with less financial power. This evidently has something to do with Mike Garlick; as the league’s poorest owner at an estimated £80 million, he isn’t in a position to spend money like it is going out of fashion as seen at the top clubs. Burnley fans are aware of this; in a sense, many are happy this hasn’t happened as it risks the immediate future of the club. They don’t berate the fact that he won’t spend, as it physically isn’t there; it would be unfair to do so. However, the supporters’ do berate the lack of investment search from those in power. Despite the rumoured takeover by ALK at the end of September, this didn’t come to fruition by the time the window slammed shut, meaning there was no immediate windfall to spend.

Dale Stephens from Brighton was the only first team addition

As a result, the transfer target list that Burnley have is extremely limited. Clarets’ fans were pulling their hair out after hearing Craig Dawson was linked for what seemed like the tenth transfer window running, whilst drab names such as Steve Cook and Scott Dann were named as potential replacements for star man James Tarkowski. It really was galling. The aforementioned Stephens had even been on the club’s shortlist for five years. The fans cried that surely, at the rate the club has progressed in the last half-decade, the recruitment team could’ve come up with a better result than the Bolton-born man. The only European rumours of note, linking Robin Quaison, Baptiste Santamaria and Ryan Christie, died as quickly as they were born – which implies they were nothing more than lazy journalism links.

The club has posted profits for each of the past 5 years; so if the money is there, why isn’t it being spent adequately and wisely?

What fans are most enraged about is the lack of ambition. After letting go of three incredibly useful squad players, the minimum requirement for a side that finished tenth in the top-flight is simple – to go out and replace them with three equal, if not better ability players. It really is that simple. However, after being knocked back in their derisory approaches for multiple players – most notably Liverpool’s Harry Wilson – the board decided to pull the plug and head into the season with just one right-sided player, Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson. The decision is even more baffling by the fact that many other clubs – those of an even worse standing in the Premier League – have been extremely astute in the loan market. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Joachim Anderson have joined struggling Fulham on loan, whilst English wingers Theo Walcott and Ademola Lookman have also joined new clubs in the league temporarily. Would it really have been so difficult to pick up the phone and field a call to the elite clubs for a player on loan for the season, if money was the key issue?

The club has regressed incredibly over the past couple of seasons – only five first-team signings have been made since August 2019 and nine first-team players have left – and if the club continues to make terrible business decisions over the next 12 months, then the Championship will inevitably beckon. As seen with Norwich’s lack of recruitment last season, their reluctance to spend cost them significantly and it is only a matter of time until the lack of ambition that Burnley show will catch up with them too. Not only will key assets such as James Tarkowski, Dwight McNeil and Nick Pope leave for the top-flight, but arguably Burnley’s most valuable asset – Sean Dyche – will be on his way out of the door too; something which nobody involved with the club wants.

There needs to be a solution, and fast.

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