Burnley boss Sean Dyche on “breath of fresh air” Dwight McNeil ahead of 100th Premier League appearance
Dwight McNeil is in line for his 100th Premier League appearance on Monday night - at the scene of one of his finest hours.
The 21-year-old has been virtually an ever-present since starting and scoring in the win over West Ham at Turf Moor in December 2018, missing only two games in the intervening period.
And the best of his five Premier League goals in that time came in March at Goodison Park, which proved the winner, picking up the ball in the inside right position, cutting into space and curling a magnificent effort beyond Jordan Pickford’s right hand into the top corner.
His overall performance was one of his best as well, winning the ball back high up the pitch numerous times to spark Burnley attacks, having a hand in Chris Wood’s opener.
McNeil has also started this season well, with his performances marking him out as the best left midfielder in Europe’s top five leagues on form so far.
It is no surprise there is interest in the former England Under 21 international, with new Everton boss Rafa Benitez a fan, with Aston Villa big admirers as well.
No offers were forthcoming in the summer transfer window for Burnley’s crown jewel, however, and he continues to enjoy playing regular top flight football with the Clarets.
Boss Sean Dyche has not been surprised by his progress.
McNeil was training with the first team long before making his bow as a late substitute in the last game of the 2017/18 season, and he was involved in the Europa League campaign against Aberdeen and Olympiakos, earning a start in the league against Manchester United, the club that let him go in 2014.
With the first team struggling over the first half of that season, Dyche pondered long and hard about whether it was appropriate to bring him back in over the following four months, but he took his chance with both hands against the Hammers, and the rest is history.
Dyche said: “You’ve got to remember it was an awkward spell, a really tough spell.
”We’d had a tough first half to the season. We reflected on it as a staff and we weren’t unsure about his ability, but rather the timing.
“Eventually you have to make a decision, and that’s your job as a manager and I’ve never shied away from that.
“It’s not an exact process, but sometimes you’ve got to go with what you think about a player and he went in the side and hasn’t come out since.
“He’s a great credit to himself and his family the way he conducts himself, the way he is as a player.
“You see all the pitfalls for a player, but so far, so good.”
McNeil’s introduction led to an eight-game unbeaten spell as the side clawed their way out of the bottom three to safety, and he has shown remarkable resilience for such a young player: “That was the key, when do you? Everyone was a bit nervous about playing him, but I think young players don’t see it like us because you’re just so excited to be playing.
“I said ‘I don’t think he’s going to be thinking we’ve only got 12 points after 19 games, he’s just gong to think it’s fantastic that he’s going to play’.
“He came in, was a breath of fresh air and has been in the team ever since.”
The club unveiled a new Academy Director in Paul Jenkins last Friday, and McNeil is the proof that there is a pathway to the first team from the youth set up, if you are good enough: “You can throw young kids onto a football pitch, but if they’re not ready to deliver it’s very difficult.
”You’ve got to try and monitor when they are ready.
”With Dwight, we decided at the right time. He had a taster of what we do by coming off the bench and having a feel for it. It’s about being ready enough.”
Now for McNeil, Dyche is hoping to see his best levels on a more regular basis moving forward: “Top players become top players because their consistency rises.
”Even on a quiet day they still offer something more than others. It’s just about raising that consistency.
”He has got consistency, that’s why he stays in the team, it’s just about raising it for 95 minutes where you are always a threat.
”With wide players it can be tricky because you have spells when the ball is not with you and you’ve got to work to get it.
”He does that very well but it’s continuing to raise that consistency and, of course, delivering key moments, which he certainly has in him.
”Sometimes it’s the team getting into the position to deliver, sometimes it’s about him getting into the position to deliver.
”We are working on the details of his game now. He’s got a good format and a good basic framework to work from - now it’s the details.”