What will Burnley’s takeover by American investment firm ALK Capital mean for the club and their long-serving manager Sean Dyche? Johnny Phillips takes a look…
Football Commentator & Columnist
Tuesday 5 January 2021 18:23, UK
The move from local to international ownership of Burnley is a crossing of the Rubicon for the Premier League club. From the long reign of barrow boy turned butcher, Bob Lord, to the Mike Garlick-led board who appointed Sean Dyche eight years ago, the Clarets’ identity has been forged through many decades by local ownership.
That has changed with the takeover by American investment firm ALK Capital, after a protracted process that began before the start of the current season. Now that the £170m deal to secure an 84 per cent stake in the club has been completed, supporters are looking forward with anticipation and a little uncertainty about what the future might bring.
In many respects the timing could not have been better. The team on the pitch has been defying gravity for several seasons and the lack of squad depth was starting to become a cause for concern and create tension. Dyche has established the club in the Premier League on meagre resources, steadily building a team with a strong work ethic and unity. The manager has said very little about the takeover, principally because he has been kept in the dark about it by Garlick. The communication flow between the two men has not been strong for some time and there have been fears behind the scenes that the manager was growing tired of continually being asked to fight against the odds, without adequate support.
New chairman Alan Pace, who has not been able to meet with Dyche until this week, is keen to assert that he and his partners are strongly behind the current management team and the work they are carrying out.
“I thought the meeting went well,” Pace says. “I had been looking forward to it. As far as things changing, I think he just knows that he has our big support. We see what an amazing manager and leader he is.”
The immediate aim is to allow the manager to move more swiftly in the transfer market and give him a better chance of landing his targets, starting in the January window. The team certainly needs strengthening. Dale Stephens was brought in for less than £1m, and no other recruits cost more than a nominal fee during an underwhelming summer transfer window. With injuries starting to mount during a season of madcap fixture scheduling, the threadbare squad is being tested to the limit. A repeat of last season’s impressive tenth-place finish is unlikely.
Josh Brownhill, arguably one of Dyche’s most astute recruits for £8m from Bristol City in the last January window, strikes a note of caution when speaking about the possibility of an immediate bout of spending. “I feel like the manager deserves to get the backing, but it’s never easy because you see some other clubs who have been backed, spend a lot of money and then get relegated,” Brownhill says. “It’s not always about spending money, it’s about getting a group together that works hard, understands, and fights to be in the Premier League. I feel that’s what we’ve got here.”
Supporters do not have to gaze into the distant past for a high-profile arrival who did not fit the Dyche prototype. The 2019 summer deadline day capture of Premier League winner Danny Drinkwater, on loan from Chelsea, proved to be a mistake. Dyche had serious reservations about the deal but a sense of desperation had taken over at board level and the midfielder was ushered in as a last resort. A nightclub incident just a few weeks into Drinkwater’s stay set the tone for a disappointing spell at Turf Moor.
“It’s about adding one or two to the team who are really hungry,” Brownhill continues. “I think everybody in this team is on the same wavelength of how they want to play and what values they have as people, how grounded and humble everybody is. For this club that is exactly what they recruit. I don’t think it is easy for Burnley to recruit players because they don’t want to spend an amount of money and it go to waste. They are very careful in how they spend their money.”
Recruitment and the club’s academy will be a major focus for ALK Capital, who have previously invested in both AiScout and Player Lens. There is an opportunity to make the academy a hot bed for the area. With the Manchester region to the south densely populated with professional clubs, Burnley can be a focal point for north Lancashire and further afield, with the aim to create a more successful pathway from academy to first team.
The £10.6m development of the Barnfield Training Centre has been one of many successes of the previous ownership. There has also been significant investment in the club’s scouting department, which is led by technical director Mike Rigg. “It will probably evolve further on the analytics side,” Pace suggests.
Former chairman Garlick and co-chairman John Banaszkiewicz will remain at the club as directors to ensure as seamless a transition as possible for the new owners. Pace believes there is untapped potential that can be unlocked at a place that has always had a modest and humble outlook.
Clarets fans are proud of a club entrenched in its community, historically run by Burnley people. ALK Capital’s takeover is a historic moment, representing a seismic shift in the landscape. Departing director Brendan Flood is keen to stress the progress made during his time at Turf Moor, which he believes can be built on.
“As a local lad, it has been a huge privilege to serve as a director since 2006, when we had a turnover of £6m and losses of £2m per annum,” he reveals. “It was very challenging back then. We have progressed slowly but steadily to a turnover of £130m and have become a consistently profitable club. We are known to be frugal but, in truth, the Board care so much about the club because we are fans first and foremost. The biggest decision for any business is to choose a good leadership team. We have chosen strong managers and the staff within the club have been absolutely tremendous, having grown in confidence year on year. I will miss them the most. I hope that ALK contribute to the future of the club and enjoy some of those special memories which only sport can provide.”
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“What Burnley have achieved in recent years has been phenomenal,” says Alastair Campbell, former Downing Street communications director and devoted supporter. “That is the reason why ALK recognise what an important asset Burnley Football Club is, that they can invest in and hopefully develop. It’s got off to a good start in that they clearly understand that a lot of that success has been down to having a very good manager. People have been impressed by the fact that Alan Pace has committed to the extent of moving up there and is saying a lot of the right things about what we need to do. You will always get people who are a bit suspicious, but the general mood is positive.”
“I don’t think you have ever seen anyone like me,” Pace adds. “You certainly haven’t seen anyone like me come in and run a football club, interact with the community and live in the community they are going to operate in.”
Key to any success will be the relationship between owner and manager. Under the previous regime an impasse had been reached, but if Dyche needed reenergising then the early pronouncements from Pace should act as a shot in the arm.
So will the club’s identity change with this takeover? Already, Pace has been active on Twitter, responding to a Burnley fan who questioned the club’s commercial links to a betting firm and promising to address those concerns. ALK Capital are here to challenge from within.
“The ambition for the club should be interaction well beyond the boundaries of the local community, and a lot of that takes something special,” Pace explains. “Every club in it can benefit from the international scope of this league, but how you do that is the most important part of it.”
Partnering with an overseas club is one way the new owners hope to extend the club’s reach. “It is important, especially on the back of Brexit, there is an important role for club-to-club relationships in developing talent. It is more on the player development side, and the relationships could be anything from ownership to strategic relations.”
ALK Capital want Burnley to become a more recognisable name in the Premier League and abroad, believing there are many assets already in place that are unique to the club. Dyche is undoubtedly one of those. If the longest-serving Premier League manager can form a strong working relationship with the new owners, supporters will have every reason to remain hopeful of exciting times ahead.
Whatever the future holds, Burnley have moved into uncharted waters.
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