Sean Dyche interview: Burnley boss tells Sky Sports about what he’s learnt as a manager ahead of major milestone against Southampton
Written by News on 26/09/2020
“I was not aware of that!”
Sean Dyche has plenty on his plate right now, with games coming thick and fast, a transfer window in full swing, managing an injury-hit squad, and on top of it all, facing questions about a potential takeover at Burnley. So it is perhaps not surprising he hadn’t realised Saturday’s Sky Live match with Southampton will be his 400th as a manager.
But it’s a milestone Dyche is proud of. “I don’t look at that too much but 400 is a decent number,” he tells Sky Sports over a video call. “I remember going into management and in my first manager’s job thinking, ‘well, if you can get to 500, you’ve had a pretty good managerial career’. I’ve hit 400 reasonably quickly, so I’m quite pleased with that. I didn’t know that. It’s not an easy field to be in and to rack up the games, so I’m quite pleased with that actually!”
Dyche’s eight-year stint with Burnley makes him the longest-serving manager in the Premier League and a reminder of his longevity will be in the opposition line-up at Turf Moor, with Danny Ings Saints’ major threat on Saturday.
No player has scored more goals in the Premier League over the past 12 months and Dyche is full of praise for a player who hit 21 goals for him in Burnley’s Championship-winning 2013/14 season and 11 more the following year before his big move to Liverpool.
“He was an excellent player then,” says Dyche. “I still think if he hadn’t had the injuries at Liverpool, he’d have been an effective player for them. Unfortunately due to injuries, he couldn’t quite break through and he’s gone to Southampton and having got a fully-fit season under him, he’s done very well and scored goals. He is a really good player.”
Reflecting on his own journey of development in the dugout, Dyche interestingly points to the skills he’s honed away from the pitch as being perhaps the most important. Skills such as dealing with the media, working with owners, or reacting to how his players respond in different situations.
His press conference before our interview, when he had to answer questions ranging from bids for his star player James Tarkowski to bids for the club as a whole, underlined the point.
“I think it’s a constant work in progress for you as an individual and what you’re trying to do,” he said. “Ever since our first season in the Premier League, it’s always been quite exposed in what we do and the media side of it, so I’ve learnt a lot about the media.
“I have a certain way I think the team should operate and I do stick to that, despite some questions and question marks, because that’s going to happen. But I believe in what the players deliver, I think they believe in what we think they can deliver. And we’ve done well with that. I’ve learnt from that.
“Sometimes the strongest thing to do is to do nothing. When everyone is cowering around you saying you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that, sometimes a real strength is to say, ‘no, no, no, I’ve got my ways and reasons and to stick with what you do’.
“And I think the little things… you’re dealing with humans and you learn from them. You learn from their reactions and the feedback, how they are as people. It’s a constant learning really. Every day is a school day.
“Every day there is something that happens or a moment that happens, where you have to manage that situation. So I think you’re constantly picking up these little almost subliminal learnings and when you need them, they’re there. Because you’ve been down that road before.
“I’ve not really said that much about on the pitch but a lot of management is understanding the people you’re working with, understanding the people you’re working for, the media and how that works and how it operates, and how it affects players and coaches and fans.
“The on-the-pitch bit is most managers’ dream! It’s the off-the-pitch bit which is the hardest and that’s sometimes the most you’re developing.”
Reality checks and improving on a ‘big season’
Dyche, though, shouldn’t downplay the success he’s achieved on the pitch. Last season, Burnley defied the odds to finish 10th in the Premier League, amassing the joint-most number of points they’d ever recorded in the competition.
Their remarkable form in 2020 saw them lose just two of their final 16 Premier League games, while, at the back, goalkeeper Nick Pope kept 15 clean sheets, second only to Liverpool’s golden glove winner Alisson.
The challenge at Burnley – like at every club – is to improve again. That’s hardly easy to do with the club’s well-reported reluctance to spend big money in the transfer market and, with 14 players out of contract next summer, the challenge to keep their best current players will also be a difficult one.
But Dyche says everyone at Burnley is realistic about the situation they’re in and they’re invested in gradually building towards more success in the future.
“Our chairman and board, they’re not always free flowing with finance, everyone knows that, but they are realists,” said Dyche. “They understand that every season is a big season for us, being in the Premier League and staying in the Premier League. They’re quite reality-bound and that can be quite helpful as a manager.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t want to progress because of course we do, as you saw last year when we finished 10th. That’s a real good finish for us. So there’s a reality from within the club that they understand the challenge but equally our fans have played a big part in that. Generally, our fans have been very understanding of the truth of the club and we tell them the truth.
“We’re not market leaders financially, the board are not going to put heavy amounts of money at risk, they don’t want to do that. They want the club to be secure financially, which it is. The trade-off for that has to be some reality and I think our fans have been very reality-bound, as well.
“They’ve supported us, they’ve supported me, they’ve supported the team and they’ve realised that it is a badge of honour [to be] in the Premier League, our team are doing great to be in there, we’re doing great when we have big seasons like last season and finish 10th, we’ve been into Europe, and I marvel at that because it’s not easy now.
“Fans are under pressure to want constant change a lot, and ours haven’t, they’ve resisted the temptation to get too involved and start questioning everything which sometimes happens. And they’ve stayed pretty resolute to the fact that we’re in the Premier League, we’re a very well-run club and they’ve got a group of people who give everything for that cause.
“It seems to be they remind themselves of that and they realise it’s a big challenge and every season is a big challenge. That’s helpful, I’d say, when you’re working at a club like this you need that bit of reality.”
Belief in Burnley’s progress
‘Reality’ and ‘reality-bound’ are words Dyche uses regularly and he says it applies to his players, too – “I say to them every season, this is a restart. The last one doesn’t owe us the next one.” – but he is also confident in his approach.
An opening 4-2 defeat to Leicester in the Premier League hasn’t shifted his view on that. Dyche has developed the experience – and the skills on and off the pitch – to know that individual results (especially those which occur when your two first-choice centre-backs are injured) shouldn’t impact the reality of the work being done at Burnley.
“I think there’s life in what we’re doing,” he says. “It’s tough at the moment but we will get the players back fit who we’re missing, we’ve got [new signing] Dale Stephens in, so hopefully by the turn of the international break we’ll be in better shape. I think we’ll look different then.
“We’re a constant work in progress, we know that.
“We want to play effective football, we want to be a side that’s considered tough to play against, we want to be a side that can compete in every single game we play and we’ve done that very well. And it’s pushing the margins.
“It’s hard for us to make massive strides. It’s a club that’s never going to put in huge amounts of money and therefore just buy in top talent, we’re going to have to develop the talent. It’s a constant process, of creeping up and creeping up and adding and adding and adding and we’ll continue to do that.”