‘Fitness? I’m not bothered. Let’s just crack on…we’re all in the same boat’: Sean Dyche admits football’s return isn’t ideal but he says he and his Burnley players are raring to go
- Sean Dyche says he isn’t bothered about player fitness when football returns
- The Burnley boss said every club is in the same boat in terms of time frames
- Dyche claimed individuals must decide whether it’s right for them to return
In these strange and complicated times, some things remain simple. It was, for example, after the very briefest of meetings that the players of Burnley Football Club decided to come back to work.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche told Sportsmail: ‘We had a video conference call a couple of weeks ago and I just asked them what they were feeling. They said they were ready. All of them. I didn’t tell them my view. I just said, “What are your thoughts lads?”
‘A couple asked simple questions — simple enough for me to answer — and I said we would catch up in 24 hours and that anyone could talk to me or the doctor away from the group in the meantime.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche asked his players how they felt about returning to training
‘But they just said, “No, we are all fine”. So that was it. We are ready to play.’
As the Premier League edges towards a resumption, the voices of the dissenters have been shrill.
Watford manager Nigel Pearson talked last week about the possibility of fatalities and suggested football was ‘closing its eyes to the threat’ of Covid-19. Newcastle’s Danny Rose has suggested footballers are being treated like ‘lab rats’.
Dyche’s view is a little more understated. He has read and digested the scientific advice from the Government and the Premier League and has chosen to trust it. More importantly, he has been guided by his players.
Dyche said his players were fine to return and were ready to get back to playing football
‘I feel for the people out there who don’t lead the life I lead,’ he said. ‘Those who are in apartments and don’t have a garden. That must be a challenge.
‘I am not going to start crying about my challenge or a young footballer’s circumstances. You try to respect each player’s opinion.
‘All I can imagine is that if a player has decided returning is not for him then I presume he is sitting in the house every day, not going out. Because if they are not just staying in then the obvious question would be, “If you feel OK (safe) to go out then why are you not training?”
‘That is the balance for clubs. Some players will have very valid personal reasons for not playing and some will be questioned. That’s for each club to decide. That hasn’t happened at our club.
‘If our players are clear-minded then we get on with it and if they are not, I would expect them to come and see me and I would try to work a way through it. There is no right or wrong on this. It’s for each individual to decide what is best for him.’
The manager said he presumes players not wanting to return won’t be leaving their homes
Burnley’s players have been back in since Tuesday, working in ‘pods’ of five with a coach assigned to each. Under current guidelines, there is to be no mixing of groups so Dyche himself, for example, can only observe one pod.
News that his assistant and friend of 30 years Ian Woan was diagnosed with the virus in midweek was unexpected.
‘Yeah, that’s strange as he has absolutely no symptoms,’ Dyche said. ‘We have temperature and wellness checks at the gate here every day before you get in and there was no issue.
‘But then we got the results of our tests. So he has been frustrated and now we are without him for at least seven days. But the main thing is that he’s OK.’
One manager in the Championship said privately this week that one of the daily challenges is to stop players hugging and shaking hands. It is part of the modern player’s daily ritual.
Dyche laughed: ‘Well, maybe we are not quite as tactile at Burnley but we have reminded them about their distancing and our structured sessions play to that.
Dyche’s assistant Ian Woan tested positive for the virus this week despite having no symptoms
‘Ironically we are keeping them apart at a time when the general message from the Government may soon be that small groups can mix. The greater challenge is that we can’t debrief or plan as we are with our own pods.
‘That’s a bit weird. When you can’t interact it’s a nuisance but we will get on with it. The players understand. It’s not as though this has been hidden. It’s been all over the news and if you don’t get it there must be something wrong.’
With the Premier League working towards restarting in mid-June, managers such as Newcastle’s Steve Bruce have suggested it might be too early in terms of fitness. Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling has agreed. Dyche said: ‘I am not bothered. We will get on with it. We are professional athletes and if that’s the challenge then that’s the challenge. I am not going to change the Premier League’s mind on the dates am I?
‘These are exceptional times. There are people far worse off out there in other businesses than we are in football. If we are not as good or fit as we would normally be then at least everybody is in the same boat.’
They say that players, even in the modern age, don’t miss a word their manager says in public. With that in mind, Dyche’s message is clear and during the break in the season Burnley have also shown the way forward.
The club’s commitment to their foodbank scheme has been ramped up and Burnley — one of the Premier League’s smallest outfits — have not furloughed staff.
‘We get criticised for not spending (on players),’ said Dyche. ‘Sometimes it’s valid and sometimes not. I have said myself we have to stretch the thinking of the club financially.
‘But the balance to that is that when a challenge like this comes, there are no financial problems. Everything is paid for and we can have a very good impact on the community and town.
‘The players back that up as well. Other clubs do it too but we are such a big part of a town of 78,000 people. We are a club that tries to help our people out.’
The 48-year-old said he was not bothered about player fitness after months without matches
Sadly, Burnley’s fans will not be able to repay the favour for a while given that football will return behind closed doors. Dyche does not underplay the significance of that.
‘You can’t deny that the crowd is part of the theatre of football and that players feed off it,’ he said. ‘It’s like a pre-season or reserve-game feel. But the players aren’t daft. They know that most games will be on TV. They will want to perform.’
Perhaps a little romantically, Dyche hopes football stadiums will be better places when the turnstiles are opened again.
‘Sometimes you go in stadiums and it’s on the edge of being really nasty and I hope now that when people go back in they will realise they are going there for a good reason,’ he said. ‘I hope people think, “I’d forgotten how much I missed football so now it’s back I can go with a more relaxed feeling and be happy to be back”.
‘I want fans to get involved as that brings the fervour and drama to the stadium but maybe this will take the edge off. I will be getting my share of stick again and I have my own gripes about football. But when it goes away I miss it. I have missed it during this period that’s for sure.’
Dyche has spent lockdown at home in the Midlands with his wife and two teenage sons. ‘I have spent a lot of quality time and I have enjoyed that,’ he said. ‘Bike rides, chatting.
The club have not furloughed staff and have kept up their commitment to its foodbank scheme
‘The boys are forming opinions about what is going on and I like that. I am on the road a lot so it’s been good to stop moving for once and spend that time.
‘I did about 10 days of jet- washing. A simple task to concentrate on, just to keep your mind off everything. But after eight weeks of virtual retirement, I am definitely not ready for that!’
Dyche is in his eighth season at Turf Moor and a run of four wins and three draws prior to the interruption has Burnley well-placed to attempt another top-half finish.
They are 10th, a point behind Arsenal and two behind Tottenham. Annual progress presents familiar challenges, though, and the 48-year-old doesn’t hide from that.
‘The idea of stepping forward at Burnley is difficult,’ he explained. ‘The finances are highly unlikely to change radically whatever happens this season. We develop players well but at some stage you do have to support those players with others you bring in. So it’s always a challenge.
The coach said he has enjoyed being able to spend extra time with his family during the break
‘We are not in a position to guarantee what happens next season or beyond because it’s just not like that. Every season is a big season for us. It’s small steps at Burnley, never big strides.’
As Dyche spoke, he was preparing to return to the flat in Lancashire he uses during the working week. It’s been a while. ‘I’ve been watching The Last Dance (about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls) on Netflix and will watch the final episode in my flat tonight,’ he said. ‘I am back in for the first time for eight weeks so I am on cleaning duty later.
‘The flash world of Premier League management, eh? Football is back and I am cleaning my flat. It will take some doing, trust me.
‘We don’t live in a grandiose world here. There is no cleaner. I don’t even have a PA so I am not worried about cleaning a flat. I think I am capable, let’s put it that way.’
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