Sean Dyche and Burnley were last season’s surprise package in the Premier League, securing European football in the process. Bournemouth were ten points behind Burnley but still finished in a respectable 12th place and well clear of the drop zone.
Fans and pundits, though, still tip both sides to be involved in relegation battles this season.
Why is this? What is it about these two sides that makes them perennial relegation candidates? Is it simply their relatively lowly status compared to the Premier League’s financial behemoths? Is it their dearth of elite talent in their squad?
Connor Bromley digs a little deeper in a bid to find out why these two clubs are both the recipient of negativity when it comes to predicting the Premier League.
The ‘little club’ argument
You hear this all the time — certain clubs have a tag of a big club while others have the complete opposite. ‘Little’ Burnley and their ‘Premier League fairytale’ are familiar tropes emerging from out of a media rhetoric. These narratives are overused and, more importantly, simply wrong.
Sean Dyche has now kept Burnley in the Premier League for two seasons in a comfortable manner. With the money in the Premier League, it is hard to imagine that the club will suffer because of their old stadium and smaller fanbase.
Bournemouth are arguably an even smaller club than Burnley but they have been secure in the Premier League since they were promoted in 2015.
Much of the assumption about both of these sides, then, appears to be rooted in traditional notions of who is or isn’t a ‘Premier League side’.
If a big club like Leeds United were finally promoted back into the top division of English football, then fans would probably say that they have a very good chance of surviving. This would be largely based on the presumption that they are a big club.
The importance of identity
Last season, three sides were relegated from the Premier League who fit the mould of being a ‘small club’.
Swansea City were an established Premier League team who came up with an identity and a culture that gave them the chance to survive and thrive in the top flight. However, after a series of poor managerial choices, this identity seemed to have been abandoned at the wayside, leaving the South Wales outfit looking like a rudderless ship by the end of the season.
West Bromwich Albion were also a side always deemed to be a struggler. However, more often than not they found themselves in the comfort of mid-table. Managers like Roberto Di Matteo, Roy Hodgson and Steve Clarke helped established an identity before Tony Pulis’s arrival called that identity into question. His negative style coupled with poor results eventually saw West Brom relegated with Alan Pardew putting more holes in the sinking ship.
Stoke City too had an identity in the Premier League that allowed them to flourish. Tony Pulis was at the helm during their early Premier League days and he turned them into a competitive side with his defence first approach to football. When the club sought to change their identity and brought in Mark Hughes, the move never quite worked and eventually the club were relegated without much of a fight.
All three of these sides from last season who were relegated, have one thing in common. They had an identity which was then lost causing them to plummet. Consistency was key to their survival and, once they rocked the boat in search of greater results, they soon fell into a relegation battle.
Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche are two of the longest reigning coaches in the Premier League. If continuity and identity are important to survival in the division, then Burnley and Bournemouth would seem to be ahead of the curve compared to other sides.
Levelling the playing field
As things stand, the Premier League relies heavily on television revenues and income streams not directly related to fan attendance at games. A recent study showed that over half of Premier League sides would still have made a profit even if not one person attended their games.
That has closed the gap between the so-called ‘big clubs’ and the smaller ones. Now a side like Bournemouth can compete in the Premier League because their revenue streams are not as disproportionate to other sides in the division as they once were.
If you consider clubs like Leeds United, Derby County, and Nottingham Forest — ‘big clubs’ who have not played Premier League football in recent years — and compare them to the smaller Premier League sides, you can see that their fan support is almost irrelevant to their revenues.
The assumption that 30,000 people attending games gives you an advantage financially is outdated. Ultimately, any side who gets promoted to the Premier League has a windfall of money to spend on their squad and infrastructure.
Burnley are always one of the lowest spenders in the Premier League and are likely to be in the bottom three of wage spenders in the Premier League when the figures are released later in the year.
By careful planning, Burnley look to recruit players who are cheap but who will fit into their system. Prioritising their own playing identity ahead of any other consideration, the club have managed to take the Premier League in their stride under Sean Dyche.
Bournemouth, on the other hand, often do spend large fees on players but they have kept the core of their squad intact since their promotion to the Premier League. As a rule, they tend to supplement their team with signings rather than making wholesale changes.
This season, for example, they have brought in David Brooks, Diego Rico and Jefferson Lerma without really losing anyone fundamental to their starting XI. Over the course of the season, these players will be fazed into the team.
Consistency is everything
As far as the Premier League is concerned, consistency is the watchword when it comes to survival.
Those teams who have struggled in recent years in the division have, almost exclusively, been the teams who have let their identity slip or replaced managers without a clear direction forward.
When it comes to Burnley and Bournemouth, the prognosis is good. Both Sean Dyche and Eddie Howe can expect to be in their jobs by the end of the season and so you would expect that there will be other teams who will find themselves mired in a relegation battle.
Of course, as the teams who are promoted become increasingly well-run, the edge enjoyed by Burnley and Bournemouth might be blunted somewhat. However, as things stand, there is much for the fans of these two clubs to feel sanguine about.
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