Friday marked precisely 18 months since Vincent Kompany was appointed Burnley boss. It has been quite the year-and-a-half for the Belgian at Turf Moor.
Having returned to the Premier League at the first attempt as Championship title winners, the challenge now is to evolve back into a top-flight club capable of retaining a brand of football that led to many neutrals tipping them to avoid their current predicament.
Burnley remain in the Premier League relegation places despite picking up four points from their last three games. The Clarets are looking to make history. None of the seven teams in previous seasons to take eight points or fewer from their first 16 games have survived relegation.
Reflecting on his first 18 months in charge, Kompany exclusively told Sky Sports: “It’s not what I expected but it’s turned out to be an unbelievable decision from my side and one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life to commit to this club.
“I’ve been able to meet some outstanding people, worked with some very talented players and of course the experience of winning the league and how we did it last season was very unique.
“Every bit of it I’d say has exceeded expectations and I hope there’s plenty more to come. I feel this club still has ambitions that are very exciting to everyone.”
That said, Burnley and the two other promoted teams have discovered just how difficult it is to translate winning most weeks in the Championship to Premier League points.
What has irked Kompany is how his side have surrendered 16 points from winning positions. Burnley would be in the top half had they held all points – but just competing against the country’s best so soon after his arrival in June 2022 is something that supports the manager’s view that there is plenty of scope for improvement.
“We have to say we’re ahead of schedule,” added Kompany. “When I was appointed here, there was the prospect of losing every senior player. Those who had done so well in the previous era in the Premier League were leaving and we weren’t getting a lot of money for it.
“We weren’t really able to build a strong, strong squad. We had a debt repayment coming up but I knew from the chairman (Alan Pace) that we had a three-year plan.
“Within those three years, any of them would have been a good year [had we got promoted]. As things happened, after the recruitment period we ended up coming out of it stronger than we expected and things have moved on very quickly from there.”
‘Dyche is my Burnley reference point’
Sean Dyche faces Burnley in the Premier League for the first time since being sacked in April 2022, 610 days ago. Remarkably, it is the first time he will be in the visiting dugout at Turf Moor since his first game as a manager, when Watford drew 2-2 in the Championship back in August 2011.
The Everton boss remains a revered figure in these parts after a 10-year reign in which he won two promotions, finished as high as seventh in the Premier League and secured European football.
If he were to make a quick detour to the pub which bears his name on his way home, Dyche won’t notice the chill of the winter’s night or the rain in the air. Off the pitch, Everton have been synonymous with crisis, but on it, under the former Burnley manager, they are a team in construction.
Its contours became more visible after three league wins arrived during a stunning eight-day period this month. The highlight for supporters has been described as the “Ole x 29” – when 29 passes left Newcastle chasing shadows and finished with Beto adding the gloss to a handsome 3-0 victory.
Dyche-ball, just not as you know it. But for those knowledgeable on either side of the divide, the man returning to the scene of such fond memories once oversaw a similar goal in the opposite dug-out as Burnley won 1-0 at Goodison Park back in October 2017, when Jeff Hendrick provided the final flourish following a 24-pass sequence.
Attitudes towards Dyche are changing among the wider audience, and there will be very few in attendance come Saturday teatime that still need converting. Burnley royalty is coming to town but Kompany isn’t about to roll out the claret carpet. There is no room for sentiment as the hosts seek back-to-back home wins.
“Every club has its reference ‘person’,” he admitted. “For Everton in recent years that might be David Moyes. Manchester City will have Pep Guardiola and Arsenal have Arsene Wenger.
“Everybody that has come after them will have an ambition to respect the values that made the club strong in those times, but also look to bring it back to those days and whatever happens beyond.
“Sean has been a very special person for this club and where we’ve been really strong in the 18 months I’ve been here has been in our incredible effort, character and the sacrifices we’ve made for each other. I can imagine these qualities were at the forefront of everything Sean did here.
“It lives in this place. It was there before me, and it has continued to live here ever since.”
The Belgian is overseeing a new generation and era for the club that became a byword for overachievers under his predecessor.
Everton’s 10-point deduction means they hover just four points above the bottom three – but nothing this season about Burnley’s next opponents suggests they are part of the relegation mini-league, according to Kompany.
The visitors to Turf Moor may be the nearest side to the drop zone who can be reeled into greater peril – but performances throughout the season indicate, according to the former Manchester City defender, that the side will only pull further away from trouble in the coming months.
For Kompany, a serial winner as a player at City in the Premier League, making the transition to a manager of a team at the opposite end of the division hasn’t been an alien experience.
“You don’t start a winner, you become one,” he says. “Yes, I won a lot of games as a player but I’ve also lost them and I’ve been injured. I was not able to play a lot of games so there are forms of defeat.
“At this moment in time, I’m only concerned with one thing and that is the ability of this team to get to a better level. I’m only focused on us getting better performances and results.
“In large parts, we’ve done that. In recent weeks, we’ve been really competitive. We’ve started getting results but the team can reward itself a little bit more. It’s now about adding that edge to finish off teams and win as many games as deserve to be winning.”
Kompany sticking to principles in search of results
The arrival of Kompany at the start of the last campaign saw them completely overhaul their playing style and squad profile, recording the highest average possession (65 per cent) on Championship record and shaving four years off the average age of the team.
But they have struggled to impose themselves back in the top flight with them ranking mid-table in passing style metrics and their expected goals stats at both ends of the pitch are worse than their relegation season.
Kompany, however, already feels his side have turned a corner.
“When I look back at our season so far, I think the Crystal Palace game (a 2-0 home defeat) was a big moment.
“That’s when we dominated an opponent and deserved to win. We were better than them but we just couldn’t convert the performance into a result.
“Before then, we couldn’t say we had too many games like that, where we just couldn’t get it over the line. We had a very good performance at Nottingham Forest and against Luton but since the Palace defeat, we’ve been consistently in games.
“Whether it was at Wolves or at home to West Ham, or Arsenal away… we’ve really competed in every game since that Palace result. For a while now, the team has been switched on to the level of this league, but it’s been a case of us not being able to make the difference in those key moments.
“That’s what we’re still working on but it’s been the case for all the promoted teams and it’s part of getting to the level required. If you look at the chances we’ve created, how we’ve got ourselves into the right positions and the goals we’ve scored it’s important to hold on to what makes us still dangerous.
“I invite my team to press high up the pitch as it’s in our way of thinking and we’ve consistently created chances in this manner. Now, we have the belief that we can play well.
“That doesn’t mean just putting 15 passes together, but being compact, winning your duels and managing games. At the same time, I want to keep what makes us special. We’ve been on that trajectory but we shouldn’t expect our team to grow without difficulty.
“We know there will still be obstacles in the future but our mission is to get the points and we feel that if we continue to stick to our way of playing, we will get results.”
Watch Burnley vs Everton live on Sky Sports Premier League on Saturday from 5pm; kick-off 5.30pm
Olivia Martin is a dedicated sports journalist based in the UK. With a passion for various athletic disciplines, she covers everything from major league championships to local sports events, delivering up-to-the-minute updates and in-depth analysis.