Sean Dyche exclusive interview: Burnley boss on leadership in a relegation struggle and what he told Dwight McNeil


Sean Dyche is holding court in his press conference. The subjects are varied as he regales the assembled journalists about the night he saw Prince at the O2, the impeccable casting of Peaky Blinders and how the book of the Da Vinci Code is better than the film.

There are even jokes about his hair colour – brown, he insists, not ginger. The mood is relaxed, no hint of Burnley’s precarious position in the Premier League table. They remain in the relegation zone despite the thrilling 3-2 win over Everton on Wednesday.

“Not dead yet” – expletive removed – was the verdict of goalkeeper Nick Pope when caught yelling out in victory. But speaking to his manager in a side room at the club’s training ground in Padiham, there is a sense that even defeat would not have derailed Dyche.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Burnley’s win over Everton in the Premier League

“There are certain games that seem more important, that you might have a better chance in,” he tells Sky Sports. “Guess what? They don’t just give you a result. You have to play and play hard to find the big moments to win those games – like we did against Everton.”

Dyche made three changes to his team for that game, bringing in Nathan Collins, Hay Rodriguez and Maxwell Cornet. All three scored. He brought on Matt Lowton, who curtailed Richarlison’s influence, and Matej Vydra, who provided the assist for the winning goal.

“I don’t try to gloat in those moments,” says Dyche.

“I certainly didn’t put those players in thinking they would all definitely score. That is not how this works. If you do that you are a better manager than me, that is for sure.

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“They were close decisions but you go on feel, you go on what your staff are feeling as well, and you piece it together the best you can. The point is that I believed in the team that I put out there and I believed it could win.”

In truth, it is consistency rather than change that is Dyche’s hallmark – even down to his clothing. He gently chides those around him – this reporter included – for wearing jackets in what is a fairly chilly media room. He is sporting a t-shirt, of course.

When the team had two points from their first seven games last season, one new staff member was half expecting there to be some panic at Burnley, a sense of doubt. Instead, there was calm – and that calm undoubtedly came from the man at the top.

Dyche’s team came through that test to stay up, 11 points clear of the relegation zone in the end. It will be tighter this time but the plan remains the same. There will be no mixed messages, no blaming each other. His Burnley will just keep going.

“Win, lose or draw, I believe in consistency,” says Dyche.

“I believe in consistency of how we work as a staff in terms of training plans and methods. I very rarely change that plan and if I do it will be because of something out of my hands.

“When I was a player, I was fortunate because I played all around. Although I did not play in the Premier League, I played in all the other divisions and I had four promotions and I learned a lot from those four promotions.

“My feeling about those times, and it probably was not as crystal clear as I remember it, is that there was a consistency of players and a consistency from the coaches in terms of how they dealt with things and how they offered their information.

“I thought, that has to be a good thing. It just keeps everyone on a level thought. And myself, of course. I have never been one to have a bad result and blame the players on a Monday morning. That is not for me. I try to treat them equally.

“If we have a big result, I don’t run around with them. I treat them the same, with respect and honesty. It is partly me being me and partly my learning.”

Perhaps it is in his nature, but Dyche also spends the afternoon discussing his experiences at Leaders in Sport, an event where coaches and administrators from various sports share their leadership experiences. Dyche was impressed by England rugby union coach Eddie Jones.

An example of his own leadership techniques can be seen in his handling of Dwight McNeil’s recent dip in form. The wide midfielder is perhaps the club’s highest valued asset, but he was singled out for criticism in the media following defeat to Manchester City.

Dyche substituted him at half-time in that game and benched him for the win over Everton. There had been a difficult conversation beforehand but he hopes it will prove productive.

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“I just told him this was a big part of his development because he has had a pretty safe start in the sense that he has come into the team and done ever so well, been safeguarded through that period by our fans who have treated him very well.

“In the last few weeks he has had a few more question marks. I felt it was right to keep him in the team because he was still doing the things that I felt he needed to do for the team and I believed in him. I just felt that [game against Man City] was a step too far.

“So I explained all of that to him and I said, ‘Look, don’t take it as a negative. You are in a massive growth period for you.’ It is easy to take the wheel of the ship when it is calm water. It is not so easy when the water is choppy.

“This is your first period when people are looking at you going, ‘Come on, Dwight, you’re not a boy anymore, you’re a young man.’ He is still a young man though and people forget that. But now it is about, come on, make sense of it and come through it. I believe he will do.”

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Burnley manager Sean Dyche urges his side to ‘go again’ after their win over Everton

Coming through it is the theme right now. Burnley have, according to Dyche himself, endured three years of under-investment prior to the change of ownership at the club. The team is now evolving and improving with Cornet and Wout Weghorst integrated.

The club does not have the resources to make the necessary changes in a single window – consider the money that Newcastle spent in January to extricate themselves from danger – so the change is more gradual. Burnley have to stay up for that to continue.

“The challenges get bigger. The media challenge gets bigger every year. The player challenge, in the sense that there is involvement from agents, grows every year. The financial side grows every year. The whole challenge of the Premier League grows.”

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It is a challenge he will continue to do his utmost to meet. In the past, he has talked, even at the start of the season, of needing to ‘pull a rabbit from the hat’ again to keep Burnley in the top division. There is no magic wand. Just hard work. And good leadership.

“Every season is a challenge. I have never shied away from that and I have always been honest about it. The Premier League is a tough league to navigate your way through. We have done it well over the years. We have to do it again over the next nine games.

“I don’t think there has ever been a season where people have said we would definitely stay up. Every season we are usually written off, told that we will be in the bottom three, four or five. That is normal to us. We are never too bothered about that.

“We work hard, we believe in what we do and we get on with it.”

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