Just one place and one point separate Bournemouth and Burnley in the Premier League table. Over the weekend, both squared off against prospective title challengers. Burnley met Manchester City and Bournemouth travelled to face Arsenal. Both lost by narrow margins and both should be confident of avoiding relegation.
On the face of it, there appears to be very little difference between the two clubs. Both have small but loyal fanbases and are coached by Englishmen. In the summer, their transfer outlay was relatively indistinguishable in financial terms; Bournemouth spent roughly £27 million on new acquisitions, while Burnley forked out just over £20 million. Both have similar aspirations to establish themselves as top flight clubs and are keen to avoid the trappings of yo-yoing between the first and second tiers.
Delve a little deeper though and you’ll find that the comparisons end there. If Burnley and Bournemouth share commonalities in terms of their current position in English football’s food chain, apart from results, the on field product is vastly different.
This, of course, is best embodied by their respective managers, Sean Dyche and Eddie Howe. On Sunday, Bournemouth had nine attempts on goal and were just edged in the possession stakes (52%-48%) against an Arsenal side famed for their dominance on the ball. In contrast, Burnley had just 33% of possession against City on Saturday afternoon. Of the 226 passes they attempted in 90 minutes, 61 were long balls. Bournemouth played only 36 of their 338 passes at the Emirates long.
In his post-match interview following City’s win, Pep Guardiola alluded to the difficulty his team had in facing the physicality and the “balls in the air” played by Burnley. If Dyche’s team approach home games in a defensive manner, they take it to the extreme on the road. They’ve taken just one point away from Turf Moor and that form doesn’t look like changing for the better anytime soon. The draw the Clarets did earn at Old Trafford was hugely fortuitous, benefiting as they did from some wayward Manchester United finishing. Recently, they had just two attempts on target and were thrashed 4-0 by Tony Pulis’ West Brom.
So, why does this matter in the grand scheme of things if they are still accumulating points and solidifying their Premier League status?
You see, Dyche and Howe are good examples of people who live life with glass half full/glass half empty attitudes. Whenever he is quizzed in press conferences or does media work, Dyche frequently talks about the challenges facing his club and the limited resources he has at his disposal. He belittles the work of others and makes a point of finding excuses for his own deficiencies.
That napoleon complex has reared its head on a couple of occasions this season. In early October, Dyche expressed his dismay at British managers getting overlooked for the major jobs and last week in an interview in the Times, he downplayed the impact of the Premier League’s new brigade of continental coaches. “What have (Guardiola, Klopp, Pochettino) really done? They’ve come in and said ‘we’re going to run harder’.”
Contrast that with the attitude of Howe. Before Bournemouth’s meeting with City in September, the 39 year-old couldn’t hide his admiration for his opposite number. “When I watch them play I enjoy it, which is incredibly rare when I watch an opponent play. I am always analysing other teams and other games to see how teams are playing. We can learn a lot from Guardiola.” In turn, Guardiola complimented the style of football that Bournemouth played.
Howe has stated that he won’t compromise his attacking philosophy and wants people to pay money to watch his team play. In practical terms, he also believes that the style Bournemouth play is the best avenue to achieving results. It’s a proactive and positive way to tackle the tests presented in the Premier League. Howe handles himself impressively in his dealings with the press, and is always articulate, introspective and engaging. Outwardly, he personifies calmness and confidence, while he is endowed with an obsessiveness that marks the truly great people in every field.
It’s this set of elements that have seen Howe identified by many as a future England manager. Dyche on the other hand resembles the next incarnation of ‘Proper Football Men’ such as Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis; bemoaning his standing in the game without doing too much to rectify it.
The giant chip Dyche has developed on his shoulder in the past few months won’t do him any favours or earn him the acclaim he so obviously craves from peers and the football community at large. There are clear reasons why owners and chairmen at the top clubs pursue elite foreign coaches and their nationality evidently isn’t one of them. They have proven track records and accomplished cv’s, and judging by the makeup of the league’s upper echelons, the cream has risen to the top.
Which rounds nicely back to the glass half full/half empty analogy. Howe and Dyche are theoretically at similar stages in their careers, but notice how differently they undertake their work. One carries himself like a high-calibre coach, the other exudes inferiority. Howe is the grand optimist, Dyche the world’s poor pessimist. The trajectory for both looks to be different, their paths verging in separate directions. Changing perception takes time, but Dyche could do with learning from the mistakes of others.