WHEN Sean Dyche got the Burnley job he was one of 12 candidates interviewed, and the first to go before the recruitment panel. He wowed them with a PowerPoint presentation – which he kept on his laptop and refers back to from time to time.
Dyche likes to remind himself of the steps he said Burnley should take – training ground, scouting, infrastructure – to become successful, and reflect how far the club have come with regards to each. He is a man who prefers to map out the future, and not just let it happen. He tries to anticipate where football itself is heading – and always has fascinating thoughts about the the future of the game.
Five years ago, for example, Dyche told journalists “pressing is the new passing.” This was long before Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola arrived in England, and when Mauricio Pochettino was just starting. All three have been lauded for attacking/possession football to a new level by merging it with fierce workrate off the ball – but Dyche guessed that’s where we were heading back in 2013.
During an interview two years ago, Dyche told me “pressing WAS the new passing but the future is transitions. Any moment of transition. How teams recognise it and react.” And he was right about that too. Klopp trumped Guardiola in the Liverpool-Manchester City Champions League quarter-final by setting his team up to be devastating in that instant when possession transitioned from City to themselves.
I interviewed Dyche again last week, in front of an audience of his fellow coaches and managers, and given his track record for being ‘Mystic Sean’, when he made a new prediction about football’s future – I listened.
The next big thing “is going to be wellbeing”, he said. The care of players and staff. What provision is made for them and their families. How clubs look after their human assets in the holistic sense.
This struck me as shrewd. Every Premier League club can pay unimaginable (for ordinary folk) wages nowadays, so how does a club stand out? How does it attract and keep footballers? One answer might be, as the gaffer suggests, looking after them and their families better than the competition.
This seems a way, also, to gain an edge on rivals in team-spirit terms. It also reflects how society is going. “Millennials,” they are called – the new generation, who have grown up in the era of internet, smart-phones, instant gratification and plenty. They have very different attitudes to their forebears. Regarding careers, it is best summed up by the Millennial saying “don’t let work get in the way of life.”
Leading companies and pouring money and brainpower into solving the problem: how do you manage and motivate this new workforce? Flexible hours, dressed-down workplaces, ‘sleeping couches’ in offices – times they are a changin’. At Airbnb, the online accommodation giant, meetings at their HQ involving the company top brass are streamed to their other offices around the world to help break down barriers between bosses and workers.
Dyche revealed that he is driving a programme to upgrade the facilities for players and their families at Burnley, including a new room for them at Turf Moor. For some time he has been using Simon Clarkson, a high performance psychologist, to work with the squad and Clarkson gives him a five-point pychological profile on every player, which helps him understand each one of them as person and not just a footballer.
All this seems a very sensible response to a shifting world, and one of the many reasons Dyche is one of the very best managers in England. So long as he continues trying to think a step ahead, there is a good chance of Burnley staying a step ahead.
The most go-ahead managers are on the same page. In a redesign at the Etihad, Pep Guardiola insisted Manchester City have a new dressing room. It is circular, so players face each other and nobody hides in corners, and it has no doors – that Millennial idea of removing barriers, and giving employees a sense that they can come-and-go.
Right in the middle of City’s title-winning campaign, one of Guardiola’s best players, David Silva became father to baby born prematurely. Guardiola put the person first in allowing Silva unlimited time off to be at his new son, Matteo’s side.
Several managers and club captains have mentioned to me that the dressing room is becoming a quieter place. Younger players don’t like confrontation. The old shouting matches and Churchillian managers’ speeches are disappearing. Instead of clear-the-air talks, in future “we might have to send the players away and have a text-in,” Dyche laughed. He was joking. At least I think he was.