Realist Dyche gives Burnley realistic Euro chance
Clarets manager plays down talk of Champions league qualification, despite his side sitting in the top four
Barely 50 kilometres north of the English Premier League title's current battleground, a new force is emerging.
Manchester City may be untouchable, but they could still find themselves joined by an unlikely contender in the final reckoning for this season's Champions League qualification places.
Short-lived though it may prove, Burnley are beginning to realise aspirations of European football after a late win over Stoke City yesterday morning (Singapore time) confirmed their ascent to fourth place in the table, temporarily above Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham.
Only a virtue of goal difference had prevented them from making that quantum leap sooner.
Without even making a dent in the budgets afforded to both City manager Pep Guardiola and his Manchester United counterpart Jose Mourinho, Sean Dyche has masterminded the Clarets' climb up the table and stunned the English footballing establishment in the process.
Chelsea and Everton were both vanquished in their own backyards, while Liverpool and Tottenham were similarly frustrated as they found themselves both held on home soil.
Ex-Arsenal chief David Dein half-joked that Roman Abramovich had "parked Russian tanks on the lawn" in the EPL, but Burnley have earned respect, not bought it, with a philosophy founded on home-grown principles rather than those practised by largely absent oligarchs.
Under Dyche and chairman Mike Garlick, born and raised in Burnley, Turf Moor has provided a new blueprint for smaller clubs at a time when previous standard-bearers have lost their way.
Leicester City's 5000-1 miracle of lifting the title in 2015/16 will go down in history, but so will the reckless abandon with which they deviated from the ethos which saw them endeared.
Swansea are also unrecognisable as the club previously held up as a model to aspire.
But Burnley are different; they boast one of English football's most fervent production lines for a start, counting Tottenham fullback Kieran Trippier, Everton's Michael Keane and Danny Ings, returning to prominence at Liverpool, among their most recent graduates.
Had injury not intercepted Tom Heaton's season, just four games into the new season, the former United trainee would certainly be their next high-profile departure.
In his absence, Nick Pope has emerged as one of the league's most formidable shot-stoppers.
Ashley Barnes, the match-winner against Stoke, is another shining example after arriving for just £500,000 (S$904,000) from Brighton & Hove Albion.
That ability to both identify and develop promising players from relative obscurity belies Dyche's long-standing moniker as a "Ginger Mourinho".
Formative years spent at Nottingham Forest under the watchful eye of Brian Clough clearly left an impression on the best points-per-pound manager in both the EPL and Burnley's history.
Unlike his former mentor, however, Dyche is not one for hyperbole and bluster.
He approaches a potential top-four finish with the same degree of realism that sees opponents nullified without being to the detriment of his own players.
It has not gone unnoticed, either; Dyche's stock has risen at an accelerated rate in recent months.
Where he was once derided as a low-level coach, the 46-year-old was considered as a legitimate candidate for the previously vacant hot seats at both Everton and Leicester.
His side are unlikely to follow in the Foxes' footsteps - no other small to mid-sized clubs will - but the EPL needs more underdog stories like Burnley's carefully planned rise.