Well, this is new

Being a Burnley fan in a transfer window in recent seasons has been an exercise in frustration.  In a league where it is a miracle to merely survive for another season, to see the club hamstring itself in recent seasons by repeated failures in the transfer market was verging on anger-inducing.

I’m not saying I’m an expert in this, but I’m pretty sure he’s supposed to be pointing at the other side

As Burnley fans we can never expect to be showered with glitter by a sugar daddy and there is no way that we will ever be in the position of the top clubs, who get all the TV money, all the PL money and all the Champions League and still manage to piss it all away secure in the knowledge that the bills will never come due.

No-one who attends Turf Moor expects to have a gold-plated Rolls Royce delivered every deadline day.  But after spending several summers looking at positive balance sheets and nodding approvingly at the careful saving of the pennies for the transfer kitty, we had grown thoroughly sick of throwing open the curtains on the morning of September 1st to see waiting for us on the drive a beaming Chairman next to a perfectly functional, second hand low-mileage Vauxhall Vectra.  “Thank you, Mr Chairman”, we would say through gritted teeth, “Yes. We are pleased that you managed to at least persuade the dealer to give it a thorough valeting beforehand.”

Clarets fans had long grown accustomed to missing out on transfer targets.  It had become a joke, a running gag involving long, protracted negotiations which broke down when Burnley refused to make a proper bid, or wouldn’t pay the wages, or took offence at the colour of the selling clubs shoes.  It reached ridiculous proportions when with four seasons of PL money and profits in the bank the club cheaped out on a million quid on a desperately needed new winger, leaving the bench filled with academy players.

I’ve never been one for demanding that the club spend money. Not just because we don’t have as much as the others but because it often is wasted to appease a fan base who demand expensive new toys every single time. It is for this reason that I generally imagine Arsenal fans getting into taxis and responding to the question “Where to, guv?” with “ANYWHERE! QUICKLY! HERE’S A FIFTY QUID NOTE! KEEP THE CHANGE!”

I’ve often criticised clubs for bringing in players from France or Holland on big-ish money moves who never pan out.  A lot of the time, the clubs have sunk a decent sum of money in fees and wages to players guy who look amazing until it is time for the clocks to go back.  The next you hear of them is eighteen months later when they are a two sentence line at the bottom of a roundup article noting that they have loaned out to a Turkish club.  Even those who do stick around to never quite justify the hype end up being invisible.  (My favourite example of this is Felipe Anderson of West Ham who was so put off by getting kicked a couple of times by Phil Bardsley that not only did he disappear from that match but clearly wanted off the pitch from the start of the same fixture an entire year later.)

Yet now Burnley have finally dipped their toes in foreign waters by signing Maxwel Cornet from Olympique Lyonnais.  The £15m fee is around standard fare for this sort of transfer from Ligue Un to a Premier League club, the startling thing is that Burnley are the ones making it.  It is now clear that the tech knowledge of our new owners at the very least extends to setting up an international dialling plan on Microsoft Teams.

The transfer is a significant statement from the clubs new owners.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Alan Pace et al have talked a decent talk but words never count as much as actions.  I think that he has inherited quite a few messes from the previous board who – after years of being lauded for running the club sensibly – seemed to stop being prudent and started being cheap.[1]  However, he has walked into a situation where not only the squad needs at least the beginnings of a thorough overhaul but also he needs to appease a restless fan base.

(I said this time last year that the previous board was bloody lucky that fans weren’t in the stadiums when the summer transfer window closed, as the atmosphere in the stadium would have been downright poisonous.  This time around, I would have gone for low level disquiet. We know that it isn’t the Americans fault but new owners generally means new money.)

Pace needed to make signings not just for footballing reasons but to reassure the fans.  The problem he seemed to have was the requirement to still make the “right” signing – we can’t afford to gamble and lose more than once – but as previously mentioning inheriting a structure that was pretty much designed to fail at the last few hurdles.

The signing of Cornet also reignites something that the fanbase has been missing for a couple of years now.  Something foreign, something… exotic.

It is for this reason that Steven Defour will forever have a place in Burnley fans hearts.  Especially mine, as his all too brief appearances on the pitch for the team brought a level of skill and vision that brought me out of my seat with gasps, shouts and cries of “what the hell are you doing here?”

He scored three goals for Burnley, each of which could have been a Goal of the Season winner. Seeing Defour in a Claret and Blue shirt was like seeing Scarlett Johansson sat at the bar in the Royal Dyche giving you the come hither eyes.  It was scarcely believable, clearly destined never to be long term but the ride was going to be fun while it lasted.

We’ve missed Defour terribly and it is one of the great “What ifs” to see where we could have gone with him pulling such elegant strings in the midfield.  But simply by dint of being a purchase from a foreign league, Maxwel Cornet arrives from Lyon with the expectation that he can fill that Defour shaped creativity hole that the Clarets have sorely lacked.  Dycheball is necessarily efficient and I have little time for the concept of playing football the “right” way[2] but it would be nice to have a piece of skill or speed get me out of my seat once every… month.

My worry is that Cornet will go the way of previous players brought in that the manager didn’t like the look of.  Ben Gibson.  Nathaniel Chalobah.  Georges Kevin N’Koudou. Patrick Bamford. Nakhi Wells. Danny Drinkwater. Chris Long.

Oh, when you write it down, that’s a long list.

And that’s before you get to the lesser spotted Michael Kightly or Matej Vydra.

It doesn’t help that the alarm bells rang faintly when, after the transfer was finally made official, Dyche said that he hadn’t talked to the player.  This seems a little… off.  Dyche is, shall we say, comfortably pragmatic around player culture – and we’ve got a 24 year old French winger who drives a Lamborghini on a five year contract coming in to strengthen a left side that is already in a good place.

Time will tell.  It would be lovely to see Dyche evolving his playing style further (we’re never as basic as other people suggest).  We’re not going to be playing Bielsa-ball.[3]   But a switch to a 4-5-1, with a midfield of JBG, Westwood, Brownhill, Cornet and an advanced and more central Dwight McNeil has a beautifully tempting allure to it.

It’s an odd feeling to exit a transfer window with positivity.  I genuinely felt that this potentially was the season where the trapdoor finally opens, where the gravity of realism finally asserts itself.  The frustrating thing was it seemed that the decline was going to be self-inflicted.  At least with the arrival of Cornet, it is a sign that Burnley FC is finally acting like an actual Premier League club.

[1] As said by a very wise man on the No Nay Never podcast last year. Well, me.

[2] I mean, it’s downright bloody hilarious to receive lectures from fans of other clubs about “how football should be played” when their own footballing principles extend to selling their entire club out at the first opportunity to a succession of spivs who promise them the earth.  (Hello, Leeds fans!)

After all, Manchester City play amazing football. Watching Kevin De Bruyne is often a privilege. However, seeing them regularly demolish teams 5-0 with 70%+ possession like watching a NFL team go through its play book but with less pre-planned throwing of the opponent to the ground.  Unless Fernandinho is playing, obviously.

[3] Can you imagine the effort required to crowbar the entire Guardian footballing department out of the Chilean’s arse?


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