Burnley boss Sean Dyche warns authorities to keep an eye on fading competitive nature in football after “weakest game I’ve ever seen” at Bournemouth

Dwight McNeil is booked for a foul on Jack Stacey
Dwight McNeil is booked for a foul on Jack Stacey

Sean Dyche felt Saturday’s 1-0 win at Bournemouth was the “weakest game I’ve ever seen” in terms of fouls being given for the merest contact.

And he feels the football authorities need to keep an eye on things to prevent the game becoming a watered-down version of the sport, where tackles and aerial challenges are effectively outlawed.

Referee Martin Atkinson blew for 34 free kicks, dishing out six yellow cards, four for the Clarets.

And there has been much comment on the south coast about Burnley’s ‘robust’ nature, with Cherries right back Simon Francis saying of one challenge from James Tarkowski on Ryan Fraser, which wasn’t punished: “The one on Wee Man (Fraser) I thought was disappointing from Tarkowski.

“It’s a good challenge, don’t get me wrong but he knows Wee Man is half the height of him and is never going to win the header.

“To put him down on the floor like he did without saying anything afterwards, he could have picked him up, could have checked he was all right.

“That was a nasty challenge. Wee man is suffering now.”

Francis, who required five stitches in his head after being caught by the boot of Ashley Barnes, added: added: “I did say to the referee that a couple of their players, they buy free-kicks and they like to leave a little bit in there.

“I did mention that before that game and that’s no disrespect to Burnley at all, that’s just making the referee aware of it.

“I don’t think he handled it as well as he could of – a lot of decisions.

“But credit to Burnley, they won the game. That’s their style of play.”

Dyche had a wry smile about the criticism, of a side who have only had two red cards since February 2017.

He feels there is more made of physical challenges now than his pet hate diving, which seems to be more tolerated in the modern game: “I thought it was a confusing one, I’m forever confused by the view of a game now, one of my many obsessions is diving, it happened again Saturday, two big dives, nothing given, and fans seem to just not bother, they don’t mind it, it seems.

“And yet if there’s one physical challenge, it’s like chaos. If worries me about the game, I can’t see how cheating is okay, but a good physical challenge is not.

“It was a strange game, there were so many fouls and I didn’t think half of them were.

“It’s probably the weakest football match I’ve ever seen, I’ve never seen as many fouls for things that weren’t.

“Weird, an odd anomaly game.

“All the stick I get from the fans, I was actually agreeing with some of the stuff when it went for us, ‘how’s that a foul, it’s never been a foul’.

“It wasn’t a one-sided game, it was a peculiar one, it seemed every challenge was going to be a foul, before it was.

“Hopefully that won’t continue, the flow of football matches is ideal when it’s clean, simple and everyone gets on with it.

“It wasn’t that kind of game, but there was hardly a bad challenge.

“It was a really odd game.”

Burnley’s disciplinary record under Dyche is exemplary, with players rarely cautioned for talking back to the officials, and red cards scarce: “That dirty, physical team has had one sending off in three years! Goodness me!

“I don’t know the facts, but I bet, in the yellow cards, there’s hardly any for dissent, so that’s a key marker for me.

“In a game that’s very difficult to tackle someone without some kind of uproar, I’m very pleased with that.

“We want the team, make no mistake, to play hard, and to play fair, simple as that.

“In old money, that’s how it used to be, it’s never an old-fashioned thing, I heard Chris Wilder speaking about the same thing, that he wanted them to compete and compete hard, but try and do it right and be fair.

“I get on with Chris, we’ve spoken about it, if that’s old-fashioned, I’m happy to be old-fashioned, because they’re qualities any team should have, hard and fair should be perfectly reasonable.

“It’s getting more difficult. Saturday I’ve never seen as many soft fouls, but that’s the way the games going, so we’ll carry on trying to play hard-ish, as we’re allowed, and play fair.”

And he was surprised by a seasoned professional in Francis, who, now 34, has played in League 1, the Championship and Premier League: “Players have a a view, of course, but it’s interesting from players that have been around like Simon Francis, he’s been around a long time and played through the levels, so maybe he’s changed his view, maybe players are, I don’t know, I don’t stop and speak to them about it.

“But the game has got to be careful, the way it’s going, the acceptance of one thing, and apparently the abhorrent behaviour of others, is suddenly getting in a weird place.”

Dyche was also bemused by the failure to dismiss Bournemouth midfielder Philip Billing for swinging an arm at Barnes, with a VAR review coming back inconclusive.

In those situations, players are not even booked either, and Dyche mused: “No disrespect to the player, it turned around when I was talking about big Andy Carroll’s elbow, I don’t think it was malicious but it was a nasty one, but how then does Billing not get sent off?

“These are the things that VAR, which I’m a big fan of, still needs to iron out.

“If Son gets sent off (for Spurs against Chelsea), Billing has to get sent off. Yet again, nothing about the player, it’s a flashpoint.

“But I wish it would come back that people just say ‘listen you two, stop being ridiculous, cut it out, let’s get on with the game’.

“99 times out of 100, you’d go, ‘yeah, you’re right’.

“Some of the rule changes have been magnificent for the game, but sometimes there has to be a bit of balance - we’re losing the common sense.

“Referees should be allowed a more open dialogue with the players, rather than this clinical, cold way of dealing with it, which I know the powers that be put on them.

“But there are some good guys, good referees, and I think a bit of freedom for them to referee in their own style would be helpful for them in situations like we’re taking about, let’s cool it down, and move forward, rather than cards going everywhere.

“A lot of cards go for nothing, they are things the game has to be careful with.”

He added: “These things need ironing out and I think they will be over time, but things like that, where it’s like an orange card, you can’t have nothing for that moment. But I’m a big fan of it and I hope it will get ironed out.

“The idea of VAR was it would make it less confusing - the biggest thing it’s affected in terms of confusion is offside, ‘he was only an inch offside’ - ‘yeah, that’s the point!’

“He was offside.

“That’s been good, but the weird oddness, things that seem to be completely down to human thought, not a marker where we say that has to be, it seems to be one VAR referee will be radically different to the next.

“So there still needs to be an alignment. Maybe that will come over time.”

Asked whether he feels the game is getting softer, he explained: “It’s not about getting softer, that’s the wrong word. It’s the competitive edge of a football match.

“People still like to see a challenge, and an aerial challenge. For all we talk about ‘the ball has to stay on the floor’, why are so many headers scored, so many headed clearances? There will always be aerial challenges, and fans love it.

“The obvious one that went years ago was the challenge on the keeper, probably rightly so, but Saturday was the weakest game I’ve ever seen. Every physical challenge was probably going to be stopped for a foul, and that worries me, it’s a very physical game.

“Basketball is the most contacted non-contact sport in the world, elbows everywhere, and yet they call it non-contact.

“We’ve got to be careful, and diving hasn’t helped, people daren’t touch each other, it could end up like this weird screening game, where you let them have the ball and wait for them to make a mistake and turn it over.

“That could be strange. It’s not there yet, but it’s edging that way, an interception game. But we’ll see. The powers that be have to keep an eye on it.”