Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance? The five stages of grief. Burnley fans ran the full gamut of emotions within 24 hours as they tried to process Friday’s shock news that Sean Dyche had been sacked.
After almost 10 years in charge – Dyche was the longest serving Premier League manager by some distance – Burnley’s American owners pulled the plug on his reign with the team four points from safety and with eight games to go. For younger supporters, Dyche as manager is likely all they remember of Burnley. He and the club are intrinsically linked in the eyes of many football fans.
But no more.
The timing seemed particularly curious. Burnley had been woeful in a 2-0 loss to relegation rivals Norwich City but owners ALK Capital and chairman Alan Pace, who gave the manager a new four-year contract mere months ago, did not immediately act. Instead, they left Dyche to prepare for Sunday’s trip to West Ham only to wield the axe on him and his similarly long-serving staff two days ahead of the game with no replacement lined up to step in.
At London Stadium, in a noticeably muted away section, chants of “Sean Dyche’s claret and blue army” surprisingly failed to take hold as the new era, led by caretaker Mike Jackson, started with a 1-1 draw marred by Ashley Westwood’s first-half horror injury.
After six successive seasons in the Premier League on one of the division’s smallest budgets, time finally appears to be running out for the Clarets. Net spend of around £21 million during the past five years in charge proves the vast scale of Dyche’s achievement, but both results and performances this season have been desperately poor as the odds Burnley continued to battle against grew ever greater. The Norwich game, Dyche’s last in charge, was the fifth in six matches in which Burnley failed to score, though Maxwel Cornet missed a sitter to make it 1-1.
Many Burnley fans, though, feel Dyche deserved the chance to bring the Clarets back up, assuming relegation happens in the coming weeks. The 50-year-old had led Burnley to promotion in both of his full seasons in the Championship. Few managers have a record as impressive as Dyche’s in the second tier.
In his most recent season in the league, Burnley romped to the title with a 23-game unbeaten run – a sequence fans still sing about years later. Personally, I can see both sides. Dyche’s record in the Championship speaks for itself, but there’s no doubt things had grown stale, with his tactical plan becoming even more one-dimensional.
Fingers are understandably pointing at ALK Capital, who took over as the club’s new owners at the end of 2020. Burnley managers like Steve Cotterill and Brian Laws have arguably been given too much time by previous Turf Moor administrations in the past, whereas the Dyche sacking smells of a desperate last throw of the dice due to the looming threat of the drop.
Pace, who has a Wall Street background but has also worked as CEO of Real Salt Lake in MLS, talks a good game but often appears naive, as seen by his cobbled-together leadership team – including club captain Ben Mee – that took charge for the West Ham game. There’s no word of when Dyche’s replacement may be appointed. Burnley host Southampton on Thursday.
ALK used a leveraged buyout to purchase Burnley with the deal similar to how the Glazer family bought Manchester United. While ALK have freshened up a tired Turf Moor and broadened the previously narrow focus of Burnley’s transfer policy, looking to the European market to sign this season’s top goalscorer Cornet and Wout Weghorst, the club made a profit on transfers in the January window due to Newcastle United triggering a release clause in Chris Wood’s contract.
Weghorst was brought in from Bundesliga side Wolfsburg as a direct replacement for Wood, with many initially viewing him as an upgrade on the Kiwi striker. But he proved a poor stylistic fit for Dyche, scoring once for him. Perhaps, in hindsight, the writing was on the wall when Dyche hooked Weghorst early at Carrow Road, despite his side needing a goal. Wood had regularly received the same treatment with Dyche unable to find a way to get his strikers to score goals.
For Tom Whittaker of the No Nay Never podcast, the ‘horrendous’ timing is the most notable thing about Dyche’s departure. Burnley recently had three weeks between games, the perfect gap to make a managerial change. Confusing recent mistakes such as the sidelining of Dwight McNeil and Jack Cork – both of whom were back in the side at West Ham – made it more understandable Pace pulled the trigger, but the sudden sacking begs more questions than answers.
“The fact Dyche couldn’t see that was worrying…,” says Whittaker. “But it smacks of panic [from Pace], that we might lose the Premier League money. Why give him a four-year contract? I thought they had it in mind to chuck some money at it in January.”
Most fans had given Pace and ALK the benefit of the doubt, citing the difficulty of taking over during a pandemic combined with adapting to the unique challenges of owning a Premier League club. But opinion seems to be turning, with the club now reportedly £90 million worse off than before the takeover, whereas before the sale Burnley had a comfortable bank balance and were run sustainably by local businessmen, who may have been lacking the vast riches of most Premier League owners but at least had the club’s best interests at heart. Burnley were virtually out on their own due to being both debt-free and with fans in the boardroom.
Few managers are granted an emotional home farewell to supporters due to the nature of the business, regardless of their longevity or success. But as many assumed the Dyche era was drawing to a natural conclusion in the summer anyway, dismissing him with the season almost over and relegation seemingly certain barring a Great Escape feels unnecessarily harsh.
Twin promotions, a title, two top-half Premier League finishes and a first European campaign in more than 50 years means Dyche leaves Burnley as the club’s greatest modern manager.
The idea Dyche will never again stride across the Turf Moor pitch ahead of kick off – at least as Burnley’s manager – is bizarre. The next time he goes viral for press conference banter or for wearing a shirt with no coat in the snow, it will be as someone else’s boss.
It is almost like a death in the family. Burnley without Dyche feels unfathomable.
Ultimately, though, the football world moves on fast. As Tom from No Nay Never says: “If we sack him and we stay up, it’s the right decision.”
Perhaps that’s the only result that will help most Burnley fans pass to that final stage of grief. Acceptance.