An exodus of the better, more experienced players in the team. A lack of willingness to reinvest transfer revenue in the team despite glaring deficiencies, particularly in the centre of defence and central midfield. Spending fractions of the transfer budget on young players who will hope to develop over the coming years, despite pressure from the fans to achieve short-term success while the opportunity is still ripe. And pressure beginning to mount from the stands as the team remains without a league win this season. Burnley Football Club has not had much in common with Arsenal in recent years, but the problems facing both clubs are eerily similar – until one examines the root cause for the malaise currently surrounding them.
While most media commentators (and many Arsenal fans) will tell you that Arsene Wenger’s stubbornness and refusal to spend money the board have earmarked for him is Arsenal’s biggest current problem, Burnley fans (in the absence of media commentators!) are laying the blame firmly at the door of the Burnley board, and in particular, Chairman Barry Kilby. Kilby has been a very popular figure with the fans during his 13 year tenure, epitomised by the fans’ reaction at the Premier League game at Old Trafford two years ago, Burnley’s first since Owen Coyle departed for Bolton – ‘There’s only one Barry Kilby’ rang around the famous stadium. Kilby took over when we were a bottom-half team in League One, and many Burnley fans try not to take for granted that we haven’t returned to that level since promotion in 2000, thanks to some wise managerial choices and careful investment.
Now, however, fans are fearful of a return to that level, if not this season, then in the next couple of years, and with it, the end to a legacy which began unravelling the day Brian Laws was appointed to replace Coyle. Laws, while dedicated to the club and hard-working, had nothing on his CV to recommend him for a Premier League job beyond ‘he’s a nice bloke and he used to play for us’. His legacy was a meek surrender of our top-flight status, and money wasted on mediocre signings like Leon Cort, Chris Iwelumo, Dean Marney and Lee Grant, who cost something in the region of £3m between them in addition to not unreasonable wages, and who have really failed to improve the team noticeably.
When eventually Laws was let go, far too late, the arrival of Eddie Howe was one that excited supporters – a young, up-and-coming, exciting manager with a thoroughly impressive CV from his time at Bournemouth. While he narrowly failed to guide us to the play-offs, many fans had high hopes of a promotion push this season, many pundits forecast a top six finish (Oliver Holt of the Mirror had us automatically promoted), and patience and trust in the manager were at levels that the hapless Laws could never have hoped to reach.
The close season, though has been an almost unmitigated disaster for Burnley. A long list of released players was not greeted with any great alarm by Burnley fans – players such as Steven Thompson, Clarke Carlisle and Graham Alexander were, although stalwarts of the promotion campaign, past their best. Chris Iwelumo’s departure to Watford for a modest fee was seen as one of the club’s cheekiest sales since Leeds paid £50k for the woefully inadequate Ian Moore. Chris Eagles and Tyrone Mears’ departure were big blows on the playing side, but fans were mollified by the £3m fee for two players out of contract at the end of the season, and assurances from the board that the fee would be fully reinvested in the playing side.
Danny Fox’s departure for a paltry £1.8m went down like Adel Taarabt in the box with Clarets fans, though, particularly with Championship rivals Southampton the team to benefit from his services. A £300k profit on a player happy to stay and with two years remaining on his contract set alarm bells ringing further, and despite assurances from Eddie Howe that no more players will be sold, rumours surrounding André Amougou and Jay Rodriguez are making Burnley fans very nervous about the rest of the window.
With only £1.5m spent in total on the acquisitions of Keith Treacy, Zavon Hines and Danny Ings, the promise to spend the money gained in transfer fees has not so far been kept by the board, despite almost weekly assurances that the club is “in negotiations” or has “several bids lodged”. The official line peddled is worries about the upcoming introduction of Financial Fair Play and the consequent need to reduce the wage bill, but with £16m income in the form of parachute payments this year alone, the board have come under serious questioning from the fans for the first time during Kilby’s reign.
Howe’s threadbare squad is unlikely to trouble the top end of the table this year as long as the board prevent him making any serious investment, particularly in the very problematic positions of central defence and holding midfield, and when the parachute payment income drops, the very real danger is that there will be no great legacy from the Premier League season on the pitch, despite the board’s reluctance to spend. The rest of this transfer window is as important for Barry Kilby as it is for Arsene Wenger.
Written by Tom Whittaker, We Are Going Up’s Burnley Blogger
Tom tweets at @tomclaret