Burnley – what a season, but what next?

What a season! That is simply all that can be said about the 2016-2017 season as a whole. 

At the start of the season, Burnley Football Club set out to achieve survival in the Premier League at the third attempt and achieved it with relative ease. The table will show that Burnley finished six points above the drop zone with a far superior goal difference, which is really all that matters.

Unfortunately the last game of the season, at home to West Ham, resulted in a 1-2 loss with a poor performance to boot. Of course, it didn’t matter too much as the fans aren’t extremely bothered about the extra few million quid at stake for finishing in 11th rather than 16th but it would have nice to bow out with a win or a fierce and rip-roaring performance.

There have been other disappointments throughout the season; the utilisation of an unsettled Steven Defour who is without doubt Burnley’s most talented technical footballer, having to wait until the back end of April for an away win and the reluctance to get Robbie Brady and Gudmundsson into the starting XI towards the latter end of the season.

However, now is not a time to focus on the negatives but a time to reflect and look back on a fantastic season. To hit 40 points is a phenomenal achievement, and the fortress Turf Moor was obviously key to Burnley’s success. It is a place that creates a wonderful atmosphere when the crowd are on their game and can be incredibly intimidating for other teams players to come and try to get a result, this form must continue into next season to ensure the Clarets can look to establish themselves in the Premier League.

Burnley have now accomplished something that would have only been a pipe dream 10 or 15 years ago and testament must go to the Sean Dyche. The affectionately known ‘Ginger Mourinho’ is an extremely level-headed man, press conferences never deflect away from the truth nor does he use them to lambast officials, players or opposition. A careful and considered approach, with a clear conviction in his mind as to how the club can continue to achieve the goals he sets of them.

That being said, Burnley have somewhat limped over the line, with only two league wins since the beginning of February and some flat performances but that is being critical to an underserving level given the achievements of the boys this season.

There is now such a good feeling around Burnley Football Club and this season has helped to continue the growth of the club on all fronts. Burnley have gone from the longest serving Championship club to a team that can now truly call themselves a Premier League side.

Whilst still being a yo-yo club, Burnley can now look forward to their biggest summer transfer window in recent history with a sense of optimism, rather than trepidation. There will of course be some outgoings, as it looks certain Micheal Keane and Steven Defour will be leaving Turf Moor in the summer, with George Boyd and Scott Arfield likely to be close behind them.

I’m sure every Clarets fan will look back with jubilation on the past season, it has been an absolute pleasure watching Burnley Football Club defy the odds and hopefully this will continue to be the case.

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Speculation, it’s all just a Gray area.

Burnley Football Club have achieved so much more than we should have done at this stage of the season, we have 31 points and are only three points off surpassing our efforts from a couple of seasons ago. It truly has been a phenomenal season so far.

We have been amazing at home, having got 29 of our 31 points at Turf Moor with our away form being nothing short of awful. There have been signs of improvement recently but the most recent performance away at Swansea was poor and saw a dramatic late goal that ensured all points were thrown away.

Our fantastic season has had a few key players, and with Burnley being a club of a small stature in comparison to other Premier League teams, there will be increased speculation as to whether we can keep hold of the players we have.

The key players that are coming under transfer speculation are Tom Heaton, Michael Keane and Andre Gray. All three have either featured in, or been heavily linked to, the England squad and with this will come increased transfer speculation, as purists will argue that little old Burnley should not have three players in the England squad.

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It is clear to see why Everton would be interested in Tom Heaton as the ‘keeper position has been the weakest area for them since David Moyes left the club and Roberto Martinez attempted to replace the ageing Tim Howard with the unremarkable Joel Robles. Stekelenburg has been brought in by Ronald Koeman but again, he has not set the world alight and is easily replaceable.

Tom Heaton has been a phenomenal servant to Burnley since joining on a free transfer  from Bristol City, he has become club captain and a fan favourite. In addition to that, he has to have been our most consistent performer over the past three or four seasons and is a key component to our team.

You have to wonder, would it be possible to replace him? Ability wise, you could possibly look at Jordan Pickford from Sunderland but he looks destined for a bigger club than Burnley and also, he wouldn’t replace the influence that would be lost should Heaton leave. I don’t think we would get an offer with a fee great enough to tempt the Burnley board to sell.

Verdict – Irreplaceable and least likely to leave the club.

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Andre Gray, what a conundrum. Until the last couple of weeks I hadn’t seen his name linked to a move away from Turf Moor but now I barely see anything else. Tottenham Hotspur are considering a bid of around £30m to secure the signing of our key striker, which, if we’re honest, is an astronomical amount of money.

Andre has had a mixed season to say the least, his season has had fantastic highs and miserable lows. Old tweets came back to haunt him just hours after scoring his first Premier League goal against Liverpool in a 2-0 win earlier this season, so the ‘bad-boy done good‘ story was surpassed by the story of a Premier League striker being embroiled in homophobia.

Despite suffering a four-game ban for the abhorrent tweets, Gray has still managed 8 Premier League goals this season, which is a phenomenal return. A brace against Swansea, and a first ever Premier League hat trick for both Gray and Burnley against Sunderland have been the highlights.

There have been concerns about the striker’s consistency this season and his deal does run out in the summer of 2018. If we do receive an offer of around £30m for the striker, it would be very hard to turn down. He is our best striker and that is without question but I think Gray could be replaced, there are strikers out there that could come in and get goals with just as much frequency, so it is possible he could be sold.

Verdict – Replaceable (just about). As likely to leave as he is to stay, however if a new deal is not signed by the end of June, I’d expect to see Gray packing his things and moving on.

Michael Keane

As with Tom Heaton, Everton are the club that are most interested in signing Keane. Whilst there has been talk of him going back to Manchester United or even joining Manchester City, I think the Toffees would be a perfect fit for the centre half.

We have seen Michael Keane mature immensely whilst being at Burnley. He joined as a young centre half with all the potential of a top Premier League player, he had a fantastic pedigree and has gone from strength to strength whilst playing first team football.

He is a player that has outgrown Burnley with our current stature and therefore needs to move on. He has given his all during his time with the club, he has popped up with some vital goals (away at Hull being the most recent) and really should go on to be England’s best centre half. I don’t think any Clarets fan would begrudge him a move away but it is important any potential deal in the summer does not turn into a fiasco.

It is important to remember we signed James Tarkowski for a reason, to replace Michael Keane. Tarkowski is a tank; big, strong, powerful and almost as good on the ball as Michael Keane. He is a ready-made replacement for Keane and this should facilitate a faster sale.

Verdict – Nailed on to leave. Whilst he is our best defender, and with the exception of Steven Defour, probably our best player on the ball, he is not irreplaceable. We should cash in during the summer and focus on strengthening other areas of the pitch (midfield).

Will these players move come the summer transfer window, nobody really knows but with expiring contracts and as it’s now easier than ever for a player to manufacture a move away from a club anything can always happen. As Sean Dyche has said, other managers looking at our players and tempting them away with media releases is something we cannot control but I have faith in Dyche and the Burnley board to do the right thing for the club, as they have always done.

Personally, I believe that both Andre Gray and Michael Keane will leave the club in the summer but with reported sums of around £20m-£25m it might not be the worst thing in the world to have them leave. Arguably, neither are irreplaceable and we would effectively have £40m-£50m to spend on a striker, as we have a somebody ready to step up and take Keane’s place.

What do you think? Will we see any of the much touted trio leave Turf Moor this summer? I would really appreciate your thoughts on this, so get in touch!

Claudi-oh! Where did it all go wrong?!

I’ve purposely waited for a couple of days to let the dust settle around Leicester City and to see what pundits and fans alike have been saying about the controversial sacking of Claudio Ranieri.

The general reaction is that the sacking of Ranieri was disgusting, left people feeling that modern-day football had gone mad and that Leicester City have now seemingly become the most disliked football club in the entire country. This thought process is completely understandable given last seasons achievement but does it take into account the cold, hard facts of the current situation Leicester find themselves in.

It is important to remember that Ranieri took charge in what looked like an extremely strange move from the board. In the summer of 2015, after performing one of the greatest escapes ever seen in Premier League history, Nigel Pearson was sacked. He was replaced with a perceived failure in Claudio Ranieri and many pundits tipped him to lead Leicester City straight into the Championship. We now know they needn’t have worried about anything, as Leicester City had the most remarkable season and lifted the Premier League title.

Fast forward nine months and as Ranieri has said himself, his dream has died‘. I must get it out there right now, I for one am not shocked by this decision. Leicester City are a team on a downward curve, quite a steep downward curve at that. Ranieri has not been able to motivate and invigorate the squad to keep them away from trouble, and I think the Leicester City board got massively ahead of themselves.

When a decision like this is made, it is extremely easy to get up in arms and be filled with anger within the immediate aftermath, however, football is a business. As much as it is business driven by the fans’ love, passion and loyalty, it is still a business. The bottom line is that Sky have changed the game in terms of money being offered to Premier League clubs, and in the past summer, Leicester City players were handed huge contracts. The increase in wages, married with the dip in form, has created a perfect storm in the Leicester boardroom and something has to change.

The sacking of Ranieri does prove that football is heartless, and that is extremely hard to stomach as a large number of football fans fell in love with the game from an early age and have grown up doing so. To think that something you love could be so cold is difficult, but as explained above, football is a business. You cannot imagine somebody in a high-end company not being scrutinised for such a shift in results and the performance of the staff that work under him, although that is different and markedly so, the very lowest level is very similar.

It could be argued that the timing is massively off, and maybe there aren’t the managers available to come in and make the necessary difference at such short notice but the easiest way to change things is by sacking the manager. Of course Ranieri deserved more time, but that should not have been based on last season, as that was a freak season that was never going to be repeated. The fact is that managers live on the edge, there are probably a handful of managers in the top two divisions that know they are safe, regardless of a few bad results but not many.

Much has been made of the fact that Ranieri had supposedly lost the support of key senior players and it was this that ultimately resulted in his sacking. As is often said, there is no smoke without fire. It could be argued that Ranieri never really had their full support, as many of them were unhappy with Pearson’s dismissal and the relationship they had with Ranieri was never put under any strain due to the fantastic results. Once this relationship has been strained, it appears to have broken pretty quickly.

The board have made a statement saying there is not only one issue at the club, but many. Whether that is player power, projected monetary issues if relegation is realised or generally poor performances, they have not clarified. All that matters is that Ranieri was part of a magical season, one that invigorated love for football across the nation and that is amazing. Was he the sole reason? No. Is he quite possibly the most friendly, inviting and warm manager that has been in the Premier League in recent years? Yes. That is what makes this all the more sad.

Where next for Leicester City? Apparently the current caretaker manager is in the frame, as is player favourite Nigel Pearson. All that can be said for now is Addio Claudio, hope to see you again soon.

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