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Pace promises fall short in another summer of frustration
The new season starts on Saturday and Burnley have made one signing for cash. Nathan Collins looks a solid addition, the defender joining from Stoke City to likely succeed James Tarkowski if he departs - as is expected - at the end of his contract next year. But with the only other fresh face so far being Wayne Hennessey as cover for Nick Pope, the squad looks light again.
Penny for the thoughts of Sean Dyche. ALK Capital and Alan Pace talk a good game, but it looks like they are failing to deliver on the promises that they made. Pace pledged that Dyche would receive backing in the transfer market, with the manager only handed Dale Stephens and Will Norris to add to his squad a year ago. There were no January signings, but that was the case for many Premier League clubs, with the pandemic making deals hard to get done.
This summer was expected to be different. Collins was in the building early, though Burnley had been linked to him for ages, with fans hoping he would be the first of many. Or at least a few. That has not happened. Links to players like Maxwel Cornet never looked likely to come to anything, while Ashley Young opted for a return to Aston Villa rather than moving to the Turf. Now there is speculation Aaron Lennon could rejoin, a year after he was released by Burnley. That is not the sort of news that is likely to get bums on seats for the Brighton game this week.
The warning signs were clear months ago. Phil Bardsley has done a decent job for the club but he should not have been given another year. Collins can play at right-back, so Bardsley is now surely third choice. He will likely make a handful of appearances in all competitions, having made three league starts in 2020-21. It signalled an intention to keep cutting corners and continue to do things on the cheap. A new right-back should have been a priority for the last couple of years, but the old and new owners have kicked that can down the road instead. Matt Lowton and Bardsley are out of contract next summer, by which time the need for a new full-back will be even more urgent.
Off the field issues are present too. Pace is still yet to properly explain the terms of his apparent leveraged buyout of the club - the mortgage analogy he regularly leans on is just nonsense - while the announcement of yet another gambling sponsor seems to go against his personal views. He said not long after taking over that relying on betting brands for sponsorship would be reviewed as part of an overhaul of the commercial strategy, but a deal with Spreadex is not exactly a step forward.
Few will mourn the departure of the apparently ineffective Mike Rigg as technical director, but some other long-serving key staff leaving has raised an eyebrow. The announcement that Turf Moor will become largely cashless was met with the usual moans by those unready and unwilling to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and that was followed just a day later by the news that power was out at the stadium, so payment systems were offline. You could hardly make it up.
As if that wasn't a bad enough start to last week, the club finally got around to revealing its matchday ticket prices for the opener, less than a fortnight before the big kick off. While it is still possible to watch games for £30 in the Cricket Field Stand - good value and my preference, but don't let potential proximity to me put you off buying tickets there - the most expensive seats are now priced up at £50. For a match against fairly low-profile opposition, albeit the darlings of xG.
There is a need to raise funds after the pandemic lashed through budgets and it was inevitable ticket prices would have to go up as a result. But it makes you wonder what the price range for glamour games like Manchester United or Liverpool will be. After managing to hold season tickets at a very reasonable cost (£319 in the JML works out at <£17 per game, a bargain as long as you don't mind getting wet when it rains… which it will… a lot) upping matchday tickets is a step back. Asking for £50 - a day's pay on the minimum wage that many club-advertised jobs have offered in 2021, to outcry - for Burnley v Brighton just feels wrong. This is Burnley, not Barcelona.
If ALK wants to charge top whack Premier League prices, the quality of players on the pitch has to reflect that. A lack of summer spending does not tally with £50 tickets.
It has not all been bad from the new owners. Pace offered a more robust response to the failed European Super Duper Super League plans than most other Premier League leaders and the American was rightly praised for it. The use of AI is intriguing and is a rare and vital spark of genuine innovation from a club where there has been a sense that some departments like recruitment have been allowed to grow very stale. Some of the planned improvements to the stadium itself, which has been starting to look a little tired in places, look great. A lot of people will be happy to hear David Baldwin is involved again, with a vacancy at chief executive after Neil Hart moved on, while offering live streams of Burnley FC Women matches on TikTok sounds fantastic.
Bumps in the road were inevitable. ALK and Pace will have their own new ways of doing certain things and they are sure to ruffle some feathers. But after indicating he would be open with supporters, the lines of communication appear to have been closed of late. Many will want to give Pace the benefit of the doubt, especially as it was clear the club was going nowhere under the previous administration - and he has made convincing Dyche to sign a new contract a top priority.
But Dyche, whose deal is up in 2022, will only see his future at Turf Moor if Pace can follow through on his promises, including delivering the signings Burnley need.
Is Brownhill in Burnley's best XI?
With little movement in the transfer window, Dyche's strongest XI will look similar to last season. I say similar, it will likely be almost exactly the same, though it would not be that much of a surprise if Ashley Barnes was to reclaim his starting spot up front alongside Chris Wood. There are probably 9-10 names that are set in stone when everyone is fit. But will there be a place for Josh Brownhill?
Despite topping the table for interceptions in the Premier League last term, it remains slightly unclear exactly what Brownhill brings to the team ahead of his midfield competition for starts. Brownhill is perhaps slightly more energetic and forward-thinking than Burnley's other central midfielders, but the pairing of Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood is tried and tested. It would be bold to break up that duo, especially as Cork's return to the side improved the protection given to a surprisingly leaky defence last season. Brownhill is arguably more of a goal threat, but he is yet to open his account for the club in the league, though he hit a stunner in the EFL Cup.
With Burnley having no wide options beyond star Dwight McNeil - who might yet be the subject of big bids before the transfer window SLAMS SHUT - and injury-prone Johann Gudmundsson, as well as no obvious players who could play as a no10 beyond Matej Vydra, Brownhill has work to do if he is to avoid the fate of Jeff Hendrick and become a utility man who ends up filling in on the wing - or warming the bench.
On this week's podcasts
The weekly preview show is back this week and should be out in all the usual places on Friday. You can also catch up with the NNN Popemaster summer special series here.
Couple of posers for you this week. Answers will be on the preview show podcast.
In which year did Brighton and Burnley first meet in a top-flight game at Turf Moor?
Willie Irvine equalled the most goals scored by a Burnley player in a single season in 1965-66, matching Jimmy Robson’s tally from 1960-61, but how many goals is that long-standing record? Hint: it’s a lot.
The NNN PL fantasy football league is back. Here's the league code: 7ixae7.
Tweet of the Week
Also back is everyone’s favourite old podcast feature (well, mine anyway…)
Our first winner:
Congratulations, Nath! No prizes. Soz.
The Guardian's 2021-22 season preview for the Clarets has a couple of really unnecessary references to *that* plane from the Manchester City game last term, but it is worth checking out for the fume in the comments. How dare little old Burnley be in the Premier League?! Delicious. This look back at Burnley kits from the past in the Athletic (£) is a lovely nostalgia hit.
This is the first edition of our shiny new toy… so there are no letters yet! But we really want reader interaction to be a key part of this newsletter. So please get in touch by tweeting either myself @jamiesmithsport or the @nonaynever account. Or you can just reply to this email, or if you read it on Substack leave a comment. You could be the first ever letter published in this thing. Something to tell the grandkids about, eh?
What's this newsletter thing all about, anyway?
You made it this far, so hopefully, you have an idea by now. I co-founded No Nay Never 11 years ago, which is mad, and it felt like a good time to return to the fold after a few years away. But it won't just be me writing this email every week, with plenty of other people - old faces and new voices alike - getting a chance to have their say here.
As with the NNN blog when we set it up back in the day (shut up, grandad) we will try to cast a critical eye on club matters on and off the pitch, but we won't be slagging anyone off for the sake of it. Scrutiny is important, though, and we will ask any questions that might need to be asked. And we'll have some fun doing it too!
Hopefully, we will be worth a few minutes of your time on a Monday afternoon.
Thought of the day
Two ideas for Olympic sports for Paris 2024: 1. javelin relay. 2. vaccine darts.