SEAN Dyche is 25-1 for the Manchester United job. “Really?” exclaims the Burnley boss. “I wouldn’t put a tenner on me. They must have got the Mourinhos mixed up and not realised I was the ginger one!”
Maybe, but after masterminding the most unlikely promotion to the Premier League since Blackpool in 2010, even the Special One himself should tip his hat to the gruff, grizzled 42-year-old.
Shorn of top-scorer Charlie Austin on the eve of the season and pegged at 18-1 for promotion – the fourth-lowest odds in the division – nobody gave the Clarets a prayer in August.
But ten swashbuckling, breathtaking months on, Burnley are back in the Premier League. Most incredible of all, Dyche did it with a wage budget five times less than QPR and a total transfer outlay of just £400,000.
“It’s funny,” says Dyche, who throughout it all has stuck rigidly to his ‘one game at a time’ mantra, displaying both zen-like calm and affable good humour.
“I’m usually a good sleeper in any situation. Before a big game, I never really got anxious. But for some reason, I can’t sleep at the minute.
“The journey’s over and I keep thinking ‘Bloody hell, we’ve got it done’. I think it’s more excitement than anything else. It’s suddenly real.”
That reality finally hit home on Easter Monday, a 2-0 home win over Wigan ending the stubborn but forlorn resistance of third-placed Derby. Yet whilst the eight point gap provided a comfortable cushion for the Clarets, Dyche says it was a psychological burden.
“What made it more anxious than anything was when the team accelerated into a big gap,” says the former Chesterfield skipper. “In any kind of race, if the gap is marginal it could go either way and everyone knows it. With the gap, people stopped seeing us as underdogs and it was like ‘Come on then, let’s see what you’ve got’.
“Then you get injuries and people go ‘Oooh, it’ll never last’. Mind you, everyone up here seems to do that all the time anyway!
“Deep down, I always thought the Blackpool game (a 1-0 win on Good Friday) was the one that would do it. Because after that, stats start kicking in.
“When we beat Blackpool it meant Derby would have to carry their winning run past six games. Only four teams this season have put more than six together.
“That’s us, Wigan, QPR and Derby. Are they going to do six again? It’s possible but highly improbable. That’s why I thought the Blackpool game was massive.”
Now, of course, comes a more brutal sort of reality. Whilst Burnley’s success is heart-warming it was also unexpected. Unlike champions Leicester, the Clarets are not in the slightest bit prepared for life in the top flight – a division they last graced for a single season in 2009-10.
There are plenty of players in their ranks who will fit right in. Strike pair Danny Ings and Sam Vokes have scored 46 goals between them this season and would have attracted Premier League interest anyway. So too would Kieran Trippier, the marauding right-back whose all-round game should see him pushing for England honours in coming years.
Yet there are others who will not. And with a wafer-thin squad – Burnley have used fewer players than any Championship side this term – recruitment will need to be extensive.
The estimated £120m prize for a single season in the Premier League will help, but Dyche has warned fans not to expect marquee names.
“We won’t be signing anyone from Man City, put it that way,” he laughs. “We’ll be shopping in the lower end finance-wise and my challenge is to construct a team to be competitive. We’ve just got to shop wisely and it’s more difficult now because quality costs.
“We also have to be sensible – not break the bank and kill the club for the future. But we have to be competitive and there’ll be meetings coming up now to decide where that line is.
“I’ll speak to all of the players here about where they stand after the last game. I’m incredibly proud of them but I’m not the most sentimental person in the world.
“There are certain players who I believe would not only be deserving of a chance but also capable of rising to the challenge.
“And there are others, by the nature of the game, who will leave the club. That’s not because I don’t care – I do. I care deeply about the players. But I also understand it is a professional business and I’m paid to make decisions.
“What I’ve got to do is build a team with the same mentality but increase the level of talent, organisation and power.”
For Dyche, too, there will be new challenges. A relaxed and jovial presence in interviews, he can barely go five minutes in a press conference without unzipping a droll one-liner. Thrust before the world’s press, he
knows he may get himself into trouble.
“I do like to have a bit of fun,” he admits. “And a couple of times this year I’ve made what I thought were clearly dry, humorous comments.
“But then people write it down and it doesn’t come across the way I intended. It’s a funny situation because you want to have a bit of banter but it’s hard to do if you’re worried it might be spun the wrong way.
“The exposure and media interest at the top level is incredible now and I know I’ll have to be aware of that.
“But, like the players, I’ve had a taste of it now. The closer we’ve got to promotion, the more people have been turning up, the more the spotlight has focused on us.
“We’ve had people wanting to film training, people requesting interviews, games on Sky. It’s part and parcel of the Premier League and we’ve got to embrace it.”
They’ll also have to be careful not to get caught out on the town – not that it should be any problem for Dyche, who celebrated promotion with a bit of DIY.
“People keep asking me ‘What have you been doing’,” he laughs. “They seem to think you’re just rolling round the streets with a bottle of Champagne.
“Me, I sat on the M6 for three-and- a-half hours. I cut some logs. Then I cut my nails, had a shower. Made a few phone calls. I got a bed delivered for my little lad, Max. I made that. My hands are still sore. Then on Wednesday night me and my wife had a bit of dinner. That’s more my style.”
It is a style the Premier League is lucky to have.