When talk turns to discuss the manager of the year following the culmination of this Premier League campaign, it would be easy for the eyes to wander straight to the summit of the Premier League at the master tactician that is Antonio Conte, who let’s face it, has his Chelsea side performing above expectation following their dismal defence of their Premier League crown under Jose Mourinho last season. Attention could even be levelled in the direction of Jose Mourinho himself, who after inconsistent beginnings in the Old Trafford hot seat, mainly due to selection issues, seems to have got the wheels in motion and heading in the right direction once again at Manchester United.
Inevitably attention would also become averted to the other side of Manchester, to Pep Guardiola. Guardiola has endured his fair share of criticism during his first spell in the English league, some justifiable in the shape of replacing Joe Hart between the sticks with Claudio Bravo. But given he was left a predominantly ageing squad, and struggling to have them maintain his level of performance on the field, he has Manchester City back on track after a slump in form followed a blistering start, and has them currently sat in 2nd place. Maybe Mauricio Pochettino should be a leading candidate for the award of manager of the year? After all there are not many sides set up better than his Tottenham Hotspur side, especially on home soil, where Spurs are yet to lose a league fixture.
There are also cases for managers that have recently arrived in the Premier League. If Swansea were to avoid relegation after the season they have endured, and the debacle with Bob Bradley, who seemingly never stood a chance just because he was American, should Paul Clement be considered? Or maybe Marco Silva? Hull, who were not necessarily bad to watch under Mike Phelan, seemed to have stepped up to another level since the arrival of the former Olympiakos boss.
Not many would have a case for argument should any of the aforementioned managers be presented with the Manager of the Year award, especially Antonio Conte, but it is further down the Premier League from where Conte is sitting where my attention is continually drawn to. Generally a manager at a club sitting in mid table obscurity, in 12th position to be exact, would not even be considered for such an award, but the manager in 12th position is not usually the manager of Burnley Football Club, a provincial club to say the least, and the manager sitting in 12th position in the Premier League is not usually Sean Dyche.
After being unfairly dismissed from his position as manager of Watford in 2012, Dyche guided them to their highest league position for four years, and their highest since relegation from the Premier League in 2008, he found himself accepting the job in the Burnley dugout. After consolidating in his half season there originally, his first full season in charge would see the former Chesterfield and Millwall centre half take The Clarets up into the Premier League, finishing in second place in The Championship, conceding only 37 goals in 46 league games. Not a bad feat considering he inherited a team with the worst defensive record in the league when he arrived the previous year, Burnley had shipped 29 goals in only 13 league games.
The following season would prove to be a difficult one for Sean Dyche and The Clarets, immediately relegated from the Premier League after finishing in 19th place and only being the victors in 7 league games all season. Where many clubs would have hit the panic button upon relegation and sacked the manager who the year before had guided the club to the promised land, Burnley decided to persevere with Dyche. A decision that would prove to be a very good one indeed for the club.
Burnley bounced back at the first time of asking, winning The Championship in 2015/16 by a four point margin. With players still at the club that were relegated first time around, and certainly what would be considered a lot of Championship standard players, Sean Dyche has got his team flying high, higher than any expectations of anybody, except for maybe the most optimistic of Clarets fans. There are a few, believe me. After defeat to Swansea City in their opening game of the season, in front of their own supporters, you would be forgiven for thinking this season was not going to be too dissimilar to their last in the top flight. The following weekend they faced Jurgen Klopp and his much fancied, for the league as well as this fixture, Liverpool side at home. Dyche’s prowess at coaching defending that helped Burnley win promotion to the Premier League, and that we have become accustomed to throughout this campaign, first reared its head in this fixture. With Liverpool having more than a lions share of the possession, around 80%, Dyche’s men provided rearguard action that limited Liverpool to few clear cut chances, forcing them to revert to efforts from far out. It was a tactic we’d see frequently at what is fast becoming Fortress Turf Moor. Burnley won the game 2-0. Burnley have gone on to collect 29 of their 30 points so far this season at home. There have been impressive results as reward for the impressive performances, the 2-0 over Liverpool, 2-1 against Everton, and a 1-1 draw with Chelsea. They arguably should have had another point on the board, denied a goalless draw against Arsenal at Turf Moor by a last minute Laurent Koscielny winner, which was controversial to put it lightly.
Home form was always going to be an integral part of survival for The Clarets and Sean Dyche has certainly tapped into that rationale. His Burnley side have only been on the losing side three times on home soil, and only champions elect Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur can boast of having more impressive home records. Sean Dyche knows that visiting sides, established top level sides, are going to have more of the ball, dominate possession and therefore look to dominate the game against his side, he may even encourage it. It complements how he sets his team up at Turf Moor. As we have seen in the recent fixture at home to Antonio Conte’s table toppers, packed with stars such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa to name two, they defend well enough to limit even the best sides to rare opportunities. After taking the lead through Pedro on 7 minutes, Chelsea were not afforded a single shot on target. Burnley defending crosses extremely well, the ever impressive Michael Keane in particular, and shutting down advances on their box swiftly, leaving Chelsea to fire from distance, often into the Burnley back line, or wildly over the bar or wide.
If their was to be one criticism levelled at Sean Dyche and his team it is their lamentable away form. The Clarets are on a dismal run away from home, only managing to collect one point on the road, albeit an impressive 0-0 draw against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United at Old Trafford, thanks largely to the excellence of skipper and goalkeeper Tom Heaton. Should Sean Dyche’s charges be able to gather up a few more points on the road, fixtures at Hull, Swansea, and Sunderland should provide enough chance to pick some up, to guarantee what is surely survival already, then Sean Dyche must surely be a leading candidate for the Manager of the Year Award.
A continuation of their form at Turf Moor combined with a few more points away from home, it is not entirely unfeasible to think that Burnley could secure a top half finish in the Premier League, a long shot maybe, but nevertheless a possibility. Should Chelsea go on to lift the trophy at the end of the season, and let us face it, there doesn’t seem to be anyone out there who can stop them, then Antonio Conte will doubtless be rewarded with Manager of the Year Award, but in my eyes, in having a club the size of Burnley, with the players they have, and i mean that relative to the majority of teams in the league, the budget they have, wages they pay, punching well above their weight, and with a distinct possibility of a top half finish this year, for my money, there is nobody more deserving of the award than Sean Dyche.