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Brentford and Burnley: Opposite clubs, opposite directions

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Brentford are climbing towards safety while Burnley are back in the mire. These two different models are producing differing results.

 

The picture at the bottom of the Premier League table, which has been looking extremely cloudy for much of the season, is beginning to clear. On the one hand, Brentford are 12 points clear of the bottom three with seven games to play, and are probably just about safe for a second season of top-flight football. But on the other, after a brief revival during which it looked as though they could claw their way to safety, Burnley are starting to flounder again.

The contrast in styles between these two clubs can be striking, and one of these very different philosophies is currently coming out on top. Brentford are associated with ‘the appliance of science’ in English football, but it is worth remembering that club owner Matthew Benham’s preoccupation with analytics has already paid its dividends by getting them into the Premier League in the first place. Survival is a massive and possibly unexpected bonus.

Both clubs have kept faith with the manager that started their season. Thomas Frank has proved to be a coach whose personality meshes with that of Brentford Football Club; the bond between the manager, the players and the owner is clear and obvious. Considering his previous experience in keeping Burnley in the Premier League, it’s hardly surprising that Burnley have kept faith with Sean Dyche, but his tried and tested methods have clearly not been working.

Dyche has traditionally placed a great amount of trust in his core players, but his current squad is ageing, and ten of them are out of contract at the end of this season. The summer following relegation from the Premier League isn’t a good time to be refreshing the squad; it may well cost the club a further £100m. But if it has to be done it has to be done, and at least they’ll still benefit from parachute payments, which would give them an advantage over other clubs in the Championship, though that’s small consolation in comparison with what they’d be losing.

The catalyst behind Brentford’s revival after a winter slump that started to look like a tailspin has clearly been one player: Christian Eriksen, whose return to the game has been a welcome sight, regardless of the effect that he’s had upon his team. His introduction as a substitute against Newcastle ended with a home defeat that pushed Brentford towards the relegation places, but since then they’ve won four out of five, including wins against two of the current top six. Ivan Toney has looked revitalised. The spring that was their in their step for the first few games of the season has returned.

Burnley also had an eventful January, losing Chris Wood to Newcastle United and Maxwell Cornet to the African Cup of Nations, and Burnley had a mini-revival, losing just one of seven after returning on January 23, with Cornet looking perky upon his return and Wood’s replacement Wout Weghorst looking promising. But that progress seems to have slowed to a halt. Much was made of their 3-2 win against Everton, but this came off the back of four straight defeats, and the defeat at Norwich which followed the Everton win felt more like an immediate return to the mean rather than the start of a final push towards safety.

And Burnley’s biggest problem remains in front of goal. Cornet has impressed with seven in the league, but only two other players have scored more than twice, and one of those was Chris Wood. Burnley have scored just 25 goals in 30 league matches, and Wout Weghorst has scored just once in 12 appearances. They’ve won just four games all season, and they may need that number again from their last eight to have a realistic chance of pulling clear.

But there is one other key difference between Brentford and Burnley which is not performance-related, but which may impact upon them in the future. Whereas Brentford’s rise has come under one owner in Benham (and with his money being spent as much on infrastructure for a modern football club as on the team itself), Burnley relegation would come at the end of the first full year of new ownership.

ALK Capital bought the club at the very end of 2020, and Burnley may have been in a considerably better condition to withstand relegation from the Premier League had they been under their previous ownership. It was reported that the sale had been a leveraged buyout which left Burnley £90m worse off just from having having the name above the door changed. A club that had been sold with £42m in the bank and no outstanding debt at the bank was, by January 2022, delaying payments due to former directors. None of this was a catastrophe in and of itself; the debt that Burnley have taken on should be at least be manageable. But it’s worth reflecting on the absurdity of any set of rules which can result in a football club ending up £90m worse off so that its ownership can change hands.

For all the pejorative language that is occasionally used against Burnley, that they have spent seven of the last eight seasons in the Premier League – finishing seventh as recently as 2018 – is proof in itself of the success of their methodology. But the club’s takeover wiped out much of the financial good work that had gone on behind the scenes over previous seasons, and relegation from the Premier League would take something significant from a a community, the identity of which is inextricably linked to its local football club.

In a world in which the small margins of the performances of one or two players or even a single refereeing call can make a huge difference, the consequences can be far-reaching, and at the moment, the Brentford model is working while the Burnley model really is not.

The post Brentford and Burnley: Opposite clubs, opposite directions appeared first on Football365.

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