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With Mike Garlick on the day he signed a new five year deal in January 2018
With Mike Garlick on the day he signed a new five year deal in January 2018

Just a couple of days ago Morecambe boss Jim Bentley decided, after some seventeen years with the club as player, coach and manager, to depart and take over at AFC Fylde in the National League.

Bentley was the longest serving manager in the top four divisions, a place now taken by Wycombe’s Gareth Ainsworth who first stepped up in a caretaker role as replacement for Gary Waddock in September 2012.

Just over five weeks after the change at Wycombe, Burnley appointed Sean Dyche as replacement for  Eddie Howe who had decided on a return to Bournemouth. Bentley’s departure up at Morecambe this week  has taken Howe and Dyche into second and third place in the list of longest serving managers.

I’m sure none of us could have ever considered that Dyche, who today has been Burnley manager for seven years, would ever last this long. It’s almost unheard of today and the turnover of managers is such that you only need to have been in the job for around ten months to be in the top half. No other manager other than those top three are close to seven years; Mauricio Pochettino is next in the list at Spurs and he’s approaching five and a half years in charge with only two more able to boast a four year stay at their club.

When Dyche stepped in to the job at Burnley back in 2012, we were 14th in the Championship and that had been boosted with six points from the three games Terry Pashley had been in charge prior to Dyche’s appointment.

It’s worth looking at our league positions on each of his anniversaries.

2013: 1st in Championship
2014: 20th in Premier League
2015: 3rd in Championship
2016: 13th in Premier League
2017: 7th in Premier League
2018: 15th in Premier League
2019: 13th in Premier League

It’s not bad is it? Although it has to be said that 15th position we held in 2018, which came immediately after 5-0 and 4-0 beatings by Manchester City and Chelsea, did worsen and I think there was more questioning of him than at any other time. By Christmas we’d slumped into the bottom three and things were looking bleak.

Day One - our new manager
Day One – our new manager

It was during the 2-0 defeat at Crystal Palace at the beginning of December when, it has to be said, we were dismal, that a Burnley fan was in rant mode almost demanding his sacking. Having said that, the very same fan was wanting his departure two years earlier, suggesting that it was time the club moved forward and appointed a foreign manager.

I don’t think the club ever considered making a change just under a year ago. You wonder what might have happened if we had. We might be top of the Premier League now, although that’s unlikely. What is more likely is that we could have been playing Championship football; as we went into the second half of the season there was every reason to believe relegation might be on the cards. We were told of a meeting with the players but whatever happened to try and change our fortunes very definitely worked. We won 28 points in the second half of that season.

On a personal level, I’ve no idea what he’s like to work for but you don’t ever seem to hear anything but positive comments from players, past and present. Today, current club captain Ben Mee has spoken to the local media about his manager.

“I remember the first team meeting we had with him,” Ben said. “It was all really positive, you could see that he had a plan and a good mindset, which he wanted to rub off on the lads. There was a positivity, professionalism, the way he wanted people to work and I think he had a vision for how he wanted things to go.

“It took half a season to get right, but once he’d had a pre-season, and we knew what he was about, it all just fit in to place. From that first season we went on from there. There was nothing major, it was just his style and the way he wanted to get things across. He was very direct and I think the lads took to it really well and took everything on board, which we still do today.”

No one has played more games for Burnley since Dyche’s arrival than Mee who was playing in the left back position initially. He’s become a much better player and he added: “There’s definitely improvement, I’ve had that experience, he’s given me the time to grow as a player, to develop as a player, which has been a really big help for me. I’ve played a lot of games. He’s put a lot of trust in me. That experience of playing games and being competitive in every season we’ve had, having that different pressure and environment, it all bodes well for my future.”

Andy Jones, in The Athletic, has taken a different route to look at Dyche’s seven years by speaking to players who have since left the club. All of George Boyd, Michael Duff, David Jones, Michael Kightly, Jason Shackell, Sam Vokes and Stephen Ward have had their say and everyone of them has been positive, even Shackell who admits to being a professional moaner.

At the Town Hall after the first promotion
At the Town Hall after the first promotion

They’ve spoken about his management style but also referred to such as Gaffer’s Day and his impatience playing golf, once ordering Duff to “F***ing hurry up,” when he was playing the hole ahead of him. But they also speak about the environment that he’s set up, looking back at the time Tom Heaton had to do a rap, when Vokes had to do a striptease for Kieran Trippier and the day at Newcastle in January 2015 when he broke the tension in the dressing room by, according to David Jones, throwing a few shapes to Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars.

That really is a side of him we don’t see. We see him marching across the pitch pre-match and conducting things from the technical area. We listen to his press conferences. That’s when we worry when he tells us a player is touch and go. It usually means that player is out for a while. It’s when he goes through all the diving that no one else seems to be interested in.

I was thinking only yesterday of the day he marched out onto the Turf as Burnley manager for the first time, and it is very much a march. We beat Wolves 2-0 that day with goals from Martin Paterson and Charlie Austin. His first Burnley team was: Lee Grant, Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff, Jason Shackell, Ben Mee, Dean Marney (Junior Stanislas 81), David Edgar, Brian Stock, Martin Paterson (Sam Vokes 89), Charlie Austin, Ross Wallace (Danny Ings 70). Subs not used: Brian Jensen, Kevin Long, Danny Lafferty, Cameron Stewart. That team was giving goals away for fun, 29 in 13 league games when we kicked off. We won promotion with that same back four one season later.

Life isn’t perfect at Burnley, and life never will be perfect but I remain absolutely convinced that we have the best man at the helm. During his first week as Burnley manager, I spoke to Barry Kilby. “Have you met Sean Dyche yet Tony?” he said, adding: “You’ll like him, he’s your sort of manager.” I’m never sure how Barry came to that conclusion but he was right and I believe he’s also Barry’s sort of manager.

I’ll repeat my story of the first time I spoke to Sean Dyche. It was in the old Centre Spot and we were stood close to a picture of Bob Lord and Harry Potts. He said he wanted to learn about the history of our club. I pointed to the picture and told him that if he turned out to be half as good as Harry had been then he’d do for me. Half as good? Sean Dyche is right up there alongside Harry now for me.

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