Dyche: ‘I like footballers but some now have more staff than pop groups’
In February Sean Dyche was at a rock concert in Manchester with Stuart Pearce and Ian Woan, his assistant at Burnley. The band, Green Day, was Pearce’s recommendation.
‘The lead singer was terrific,’ explained Dyche. ‘But he just stopped at one point and said: “Please put your phones down. You are not engaging. You don’t know it’s me. You are gonna look back at this concert and all you will remember is that you were holding a phone in the air”.
‘And he was dead right. So it’s not just footballers, it’s everyone. Everyone is obsessed with a media screen.’
The anecdote is relevant because we are talking about managing footballers, one of Dyche’s accepted strengths.
He talks about the day when, as a player at Millwall, he sat watching the coverage of 9/11 on TV at the training ground. That night he had a game at Gillingham and still doesn’t know how he played.
I ask how players would react to that now? ‘Some will be affected and some won’t,’ he said. ‘Those different levels have always been there but social media has exaggerated it for sure. Give some players something else to look at and they may take it.
‘People are more insular now. It is: “Me, me, me, me”. That is partly down to technology.
‘Back then we watched it and discussed it on the bus on the way to the game and maybe afterwards. But now something happens and it’s like “Oh yeah” and then they are back on their phone. They may still be discussing it, but they are doing so with someone else on text.
‘We were interacting as people. We were like: “Am I still watching this? Is this really happening?”.’ Dyche likes footballers. He was one himself, a central defender mainly, for 17 years. It seems footballers respond to him.
At Burnley, his talented but largely uncelebrated players have over-achieved since last season’s promotion, and victory over Tottenham at Turf Moor on Saturday would put them within touching distance of safety already.
The Burnley manager knows what many top footballers are like in the modern age, though. He knows the world he will enter if he ever leaves Burnley for an upgrade. Once he said that managing 25 footballers was like ‘managing 25 mini-companies’.
‘I was alluding to bigger clubs,’ he smiled. ‘Those players are so powerful in their own life. They have an agent, a media agent and some have their own physios and sport science people. They have staff! I don’t even think a pop group would have that many.
‘A player may come in and speak to you and it’s not actually his view – it’s the view of the people behind him and he has been sent in to say it to you.’
So would that put him off working with bigger players? ‘No,’ he said without pause. ‘Nothing I question ever puts me off.
‘I just take it as reality. It’s the shifting sands of football and life.
‘The verb is manage, isn’t it? We are paid to manage what is in front of us and I will always do that.’
Managers are sacked all the time. It happened to Dyche at Watford, even though they had finished 11th in the Championship.
The most notable dismissal of this season was Claudio Ranieri at Leicester. Did Dyche feel sympathy for him or should Ranieri simply have managed his problem players better?
‘I don’t feel sorry for managers, but I empathise because I understand the complexities,’ he said. ‘Football management seems so obvious from the outside but people don’t know what is happening inside a dressing room.
‘They say: “Why are you not playing that player?”. They don’t know he is going through a divorce or his wife is having an affair.
‘People don’t see the depth and that’s where it gets tricky. But it’s my job, so it’s fine. So I have empathy and Ranieri is a tough one to call. The sympathy from the masses was like: “Why have these players allegedly stopped running as hard?”
‘But that still comes back to the manager. What are you going to do to make them run as hard as before? So it may be an unfair business but that IS the business, sadly.’
In a corridor at Turf Moor in November, Dyche passes Pep Guardiola on his way to fulfil media duties after Manchester City’s 2-1 win.
Dyche recalled: ‘He stopped and made a point of saying: ‘We couldn’t dominate you. We couldn’t find a way. Your team were so organised and well coached and that’s such a good thing to see’.
‘Some managers may use the way we play as a smokescreen but deep down they know what we are.’ Burnley are hard to beat. Their away results are lousy – just three draws all season – but they rarely get properly turned over. Managers of bigger clubs often comment on their methods. It’s not usually unkind but it’s often there.
‘They play this long ball,’ said Chelsea manager Antonio Conte after his side’s 1-1 draw in Lancashire.
‘They fight for the second balls, long balls,’ said Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp after his side’s fortunate win at Anfield.
It jars a bit because it feels unfair. Burnley don’t simply launch the ball forward. Their main centre forward Andre Gray, for example, is not even at his best in the air or with his back to goal.
Dyche shrugged. ‘Actually it’s not as bad in the Premier League,’ he said. ‘The managers here will brand you less. They are at the top level and they know how hard it is. In the Championship you get a lot more of it. You beat someone and they will say: ‘Oh well, they just kick the ball down the pitch and run around a lot’. It’s brutal. But it’s brinkmanship. Everyone down there is chasing one thing.
‘In the Premier League they are saying it because it’s their view on how we play. I don’t take it badly.
‘I look at effective football. What is effective to win? Howard Wilkinson once told me: “Win, survive and then build”.
‘He is spot on. People try to build a philosophy but if you do that then make sure you win first. I see my job as playing a style that suits the players I have got.
‘That’s key. I can’t impose any old system on the players because what happens if they can’t deliver it?
‘If you want to play Barcelona football, get Barcelona players. Don’t try it without them.
‘I will show you a hundred horror stories of people that said they were going to play Barcelona football. They were out of work within three, six, nine months.
‘I look at it simply. Look at the players you have got, don’t dream of the ones you haven’t. Give them the best chance to operate. It’s about them by the way, not me.
‘Give them success on the field – kudos, grandeur – and success off the field. Make them millionaires.
‘Most footballers want to be millionaires. These ones weren’t when I got here, but there are a lot who are now.’
Dyche is generous and animated company. Prior to our interview he had given a rather riotous weekly press conference during which he spoke about Premier League managers publicly discussing transfer targets.
Everton boss Ronald Koeman, for example, recently admitted Burnley’s central defender Michael Keane is on his list.
‘Managers talk about who they’re after and I’ve never seen anything like it,’ he said. ‘You can only hope the powers that be see it and think it’s not quite right.’
Despite this, it is quite a job to make Dyche angry. By his own admission, he was a nuts and bolts defender. Uncompromising. But with age – he is still only 45 – has come some perspective and an apparent ability to let some things slide.
Having joined Burnley in October 2012, he has taken them to the Premier League, back down again and now to the verge of successive top-flight seasons for the first time since 1975. Maybe he can afford to be sanguine.
‘If you took away back-third football, you would find the passing stats would be quite similar you know,’ he said. ‘It’s the back third that makes people say a team is a passing side. We have played against loads. Pass it round the back, pass it round the back, pass it round the back and then kick it forward. I do have the stats as well. I know how many long balls, how many effective balls, how many passes we play.
‘I know the numbers (he reels some off) but never mention them because I don’t need to. Our success speaks for itself. We have been promoted twice and are doing reasonably well. And we have built a new training ground.
‘So am I really going to get narked about someone saying we play get-it-forward football? I’m just not. The results, the model and the structure here all say we are doing okay.
‘Like I say, it’s about winning and it all sounds really easy in an interview and I think I talk a great game.
‘But then you have to go and deliver it and that bit is a f*****g b*****d.’
Dyche’s playing career began at Nottingham Forest where he lived in digs behind the City Ground with Woan and a young Irishman called Roy Keane.
‘Keaney was different then,’ he said. ‘A young, quiet, gentle lad from Cork who just wanted to be a footballer. We stayed friends for many years and he was always good with me. We have a long history.’
Dyche never played for Forest but he learned from Brian Clough. ‘I remember the simplicity,’ he said. ‘Everyone knew their jobs. It was set in stone and the way to conduct yourself was important. Good manners, be presentable, be on time, be polite. The Clough thing is an easy line and it’s the right one as he is the proper legend.
‘But I also took stuff, maybe more stuff, from John Duncan at Chesterfield and Ray Harford at Millwall and Mark McGhee. Ray Lewington was a good coach, too, and I like a lot of the guys now.
‘I like Mauricio Pochettino. I like what he does. Arsene Wenger has always been brilliant with me.
‘Not all of them want to spend time with you but that’s fine. Sir Alex Ferguson was great. They are not all big-time.’
Dyche enjoyed his playing career. There were some low points – including two miserable, injury-plagued years at Bristol City that he says were the most important of his life – but also four promotions and an FA Cup semi-final with Chesterfield that took place 20 years ago this month.
The third-tier club led Premier League Middlesbrough 2-0 – Dyche scoring the only penalty he ever took – before a third ‘goal’ was adjudged not to have crossed the line even though it clearly had. The game ended 3-3 and Boro won the replay.
‘I am convinced had we got the third goal then that was it,’ said Dyche, captain that day. ‘That was a big moment for a club like Chesterfield.
‘David Elleray (the referee) said in his book that he didn’t know to this day why he didn’t give it.
‘But you just get a few knocks down the line don’t you? A once-in-a-lifetime moment is taken from your hands.
‘We could have played at Wembley in an FA Cup Final. Mind you, we may have lost 10-0.’
There is another anniversary looming, as well. A Burnley anniversary.
May 9 will mark 30 years since Brian Miller’s team beat Orient to ensure they were not relegated from the Football League.
Here, in 2017, the club is financially sound, on the verge of becoming a Premier League fixture and this week completed a new £10million training ground.
They should probably name it after their manager.
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