Like the majority of prizes this year, the Manager of the Season will no doubt be heading to the Etihad Stadium. Pep Guardiola, who has overseen Man City’s domestic domination, will surely pick up a number of personal accolades to add to his growing collection but my vote for Manager of the Season would have to go to Burnley’s Sean Dyche.
Having witnessed his unique brand of football at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, plenty of fans and pundits would have predicted such a command on the Premier League by Guardiola. But few would have thought Burnley would be seventh in the league right now, on course for Europe. Having lost their star defender Michael Keane to Everton, a season bravely battling relegation looked to be on the cards for Dyche. His sole major signing was Chris Wood from Leeds United; a club record fee for a striker who was entering into his tenth move in seven years. A move that would pay off, but a sign of Burnley’s humble resources.
Incredibly, Burnley have one of the lowest budgets in the top division and Dyches handling of their finances has been an absolute masterstroke. Only Huddersfield and Brighton, both newly promoted from the Championship, have a lower wage bill than Burnley. By selling Keane and Andre Gray to Watford, Burnley actually recorded a £9m profit this season. Some of that cash was spent on midfielder Jack Cork, an astute buy from Swansea City, who has made his England debut whilst playing under Dyche.
One of Dyche’s strengths lies in his versatility and to work with what he has. When he lost his captain Tom Heaton to long term injury, Dyche showed faith in rookie keeper Nick Pope. Heaton, who had only missed 3 games in the last two seasons in goal for the Clarets, dislocated his shoulder in September. His absence was set to derail Burnley’s season but Pope has risen to the opportunity and kept 10 clean sheets; a record bettered by only three keepers in the Premier League.
The form of centre back James Tarkowski, is another success story for Dyche. Like Cork and Pope, Tarkowski has been called up by Gareth Southgate to the England squad. After Keane left in the summer, Dyche could have easily have bought a replacement but he knew Tarkowski was ready. Pope and Tarkowski along with captain Ben Mee, Matt Lowton and Stephen Ward have been key in Burnley’s rise this year, keeping the fourth best defence in the top flight.
To contextualise their journey you only have to look how they fared the year before. Burnley finished the 2016/17 season in 16th position with 40 points, just two points above the drop. Their remarkable improvement this year saw them reach that tally with nine games to go. The start of their incredible season can be traced back to the opening day, where they equalled their dismal away record of just one win in the whole of 2016/17, by taking all three points at Chelsea, who had finished last season as champions. That famous win was the start of a unforgettable season that hasn’t seen Burnley out of top ten since the end of August.
His ability to handle adversity and nurture his talented squad is what makes him such an admirable coach and a future candidate to manage England. In a league famed for its drama and unpredictability, the biggest upset is happening at Turf Moor and Sean Dyche deserves all the praise.