Burnley’s decision to sack manager Sean Dyche after almost a decade at Turf Moor is a huge gamble that smacks of blind panic by the club’s owners.
If the Clarets stay in the Premier League, and they are currently four points from safety behind Everton with eight games left, Burnley’s American chairman Alan Pace and his cohorts can congratulate themselves on a roll of the dice that paid off spectacularly.
If Burnley go down, they will be accused by many supporters of being guilty of a desperate, misguided move that removed the man who is still arguably their best chance of survival, even after a season where they have won only four league games, losing five of their last six.
This is the punt Pace and his boardroom colleagues have taken when making a decision which raised eyebrows even in the usually shockproof world of Premier League management.
Dyche, 50, is hugely respected and loved in Burnley, not just at the football club but in a town where he has defied the odds and financial limitations. They are currently in their sixth successive season in the Premier League, their best run since the 60s, and Dyche even took them back into Europe for the first time in 51 years when they finished seventh in 2017-18.
And, when Burnley did go down in 2015, Dyche was able to bring them straight back up.
It seems the new owners feel their future financial and footballing fortunes are so heavily locked in with retaining Premier League status that they had to act, the 2-0 loss at bottom club Norwich City last Sunday seemingly the last straw.
A loss to the Canaries this season appears to act as Kryptonite to struggling clubs, as both Rafael Benitez at Everton and Claudio Ranieri at Watford were sacked after defeat against Norwich City.
Only days earlier, however, Dyche demonstrated that he could still drag a crucial result out of a squad assembled on a shoestring – at least compared with his Premier League rivals – when they came from behind to beat their closest relegation rivals Everton 3-2 at Turf Moor.
There was growing noise that this may well have been Dyche’s last season at Burnley anyway, that the time had come to move on after nearly a decade of getting the club to punch above its weight, but surely he deserved the right to take that decision himself.
To sack Dyche now, so close to season’s end, hints at fear behind the scenes at Burnley. Only survival will now make this look anything like a wise move, once again showing the high stakes that brought the club’s owners to a huge decision.
Dyche has never been backed by a big budget. That is not particularly a criticism of previous Burnley owners – merely an acknowledgement that the club had to live within its means. But this only adds to the scale of the job he has done.
The manager, backed by his tight-knit staff, had built a Burnley side that played with limitations but knew how to survive. They were facing a desperate struggle but it is a very risky judgement call for the Turf Moor hierarchy to believe they can improve on a manager who has been over this course before.
With so few games left, the assumption must be that Burnley have a replacement lined up. The most usual suspect of all, Sam Allardyce, is already being heavily touted.
So much rests on the outcome of this move, which is likely to prove unpopular with many Burnley supporters. They will regard the club’s decision-makers with highly critical eyes if it goes wrong.
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Dyche can leave with his head held high and a reputation that is sure to guarantee plenty of offers before the start of next season.
He was linked with many Premier League vacancies during his time at Turf Moor – Crystal Palace, Everton, Leicester City and West Ham United among them – but none ever materialised.
Now he is openly available, his body of work at Burnley will demand attention. It may even be, once the pain of the sack has subsided, the perfect chance for Dyche to reboot, make a fresh start and enjoy life away from the club where he has been the focal point for so long.
For Burnley, the immediate priority is Premier League survival. Much depends on it for Burnley’s owners, both financially and for their reputation with the club’s supporters.
It is a hugely high-risk strategy to sack such a proven manager, even if no-one can deny this season has been largely one of struggle. The consequences of that decision will soon be known.
Burnley’s owners have dismissed Dyche so they can stay in the Premier League. The equation is that stark.