Chris Boden’s Burnley Team of the Decade

The 20-teens, or however we will come to call this decade, will go down as Burnley Football Club’s most successful period since the halcyon days of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Wednesday, 27th November 2019, 11:22 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th November 2019, 11:25 am
Chris Bodens Burnley Team of the Decade

The Clarets are currently enjoying a fifth season in six in the Premier League, in which time they have earned a seventh-place finish - the club’s highest since 1974 - and a return to European competition after 51 years away.

They have twice won automatic promotion to the top flight in the decade, as Championship runners-up, and then champions, on the back of a 23-game unbeaten run.

You may note that all of the above has been achieved by one manager, Sean Dyche, who will go down as the club’s best since the legendary Harry Potts.

Sign up to our daily Burnley Express Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Burnley celebrate winning the Championship title in 2016

But what of the players who created those memories?

It is a tough task to select a Best Burnley XI of the decade, and some difficult decisions have been made.

Apologies to some fabulous players who have not made the cut, but, as Dyche would say, I can only pick 11.

The side could only be in one formation, 4-4-2 of course.

In goal, the decade started with Brian Jensen between the sticks, in the side relegated from the Premier League.

In the summer of 2010, Brian Laws brought in Lee Grant, and he would emerge as number one under Eddie Howe, and initially under Dyche, before leaving at the end of his contract in 2013.

Dyche’s first permanent signing, Tom Heaton, arrived that summer on a free from relegated Bristol City, and is the first name on the team sheet.

He spent six seasons with the club, in which time you could count his errors on one hand.

He became the club’s first player to be capped by England in 42 years, and his performance in the goalless draw against former club Manchester United at Old Trafford in 2016 was the best I’ve seen in over 25 years covering the club.

No brainer - Heaton is my number one.

At right back, Tyrone Mears enjoyed a decent season in the 2009/10 Premier League campaign, with his marauding runs, but after he and Chris Eagles departed for the greener grass of Bolton - remember them? - in the summer of 2011, his replacement was Kieran Trippier, who gets the number two shirt.

Whole-hearted, a fan favourite, and the best crosser of the ball seen at Turf Moor in some time - showing the nation his class on the way to the World Cup semi-final last summer - he is the stand out.

As Dyche often cites, he doesn’t have favourite players, just “Tripps”.

And while Matt Lowton and Phil Bardsley have been astute signings and been impressive performers at the top level, Trippier gets the nod.

Two centre backs have earned England caps while with the club this decade, Michael Keane and James Tarkowski, while another, Ben Mee, will be hugely unlucky if he doesn’t get one.

Keane and Tarkowski are my picks in the centre of defence - the former the club’s record sale, for an initial £25m to Everton, while the latter is potentially worth even more in this market.

Sadly, we didn't see the two as a pair, Tarkowski having to bide his time before Keane's departure, but I think they would have complemented each other nicely.

Keane was quicker than he is given credit for, over distance, and composed on the ball. Tarkowski is similarly comfortable in possession, but arguably the more aggressive defender. Both are capable of causing problems in the opposition box as well.

Honourable mentions to the magnificent Michael Duff - one of the club’s best ever signings at £30,000 and a friendly at Cheltenham Town, as well as promotion-winning skipper Jason Shackell, but I’ve gone for Keane and Tarkowski - and as I couldn’t possibly leave Mee out of the side, I’ve shifted him across to left back, a position he filled with aplomb under Howe and Dyche before moving inside to his natural role.

That means there is no place for Stephen Ward, a steady, reliable influence over half the decade, or Charlie Taylor, who has vast potential and continues to improve.

Midfield was arguably the hardest area to nail down.

Notoriously, the club haven’t had vast options in the engine room, but the partnerships they have built, and the players that have filled those roles, have been first rate.

Jack Cork started the decade on loan at the club, impressing as a young player on loan from Chelsea, and ends it as first-choice, a player of remarkable consistency, whose work rate allies with his ability to look after the ball, and pop up with the odd goal.

His current midfield partner, Ashley Westwood, has come into his own since Steven Defour's injury problems began, ending last season as player of the year. He and Cork are another vital partnership in a fine Burnley side.

Are either better players than Defour? No, but you could argue we only really saw the best of Defour over the first half of the 2017/18 season, and that's not enough to get a jersey.

In terms of partnerships in the engine room, Dean Marney and David Jones' understanding was as good as any, helping twice win promotion, while Joey Barton, in two spells over 18 months, was a huge influence on and off the pitch.

Jeff Hendrick has also become an integral part of the side in a variety of roles, but I can't look beyond Cork and Marney for my central two.

In the wider areas, you could again look at Hendrick, while Eagles performed well in 2010/11 when he hit 15 in 48 games.

Ross Wallace and Junior Stanislas were key members of the side under Howe and Dyche, and Michael Kightly made a big contribution to promotion in 2014.

You can probably narrow it down to two from four, however, with Scott Arfield, George Boyd, Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Dwight McNeil vying for slots.

Arfield was a fabulous servant, arriving on a free in 2013, after leaving Huddersfield, another who you could rely on in a number of roles, and always contributing big goals. He gets the nod ahead of Boyd.

And McNeil, while playing a relatively small percentage of the decade, simply can't be left out. Gudmundsson's assists statistics are impressive, but McNeil is the best player to come through the ranks since Trevor Steven, and he could go on to bigger things with an elite club as well as his country.

Up front, Burnley have been blessed with their striking options this decade.

Steven Fletcher was eventually replaced by Jay Rodriguez, with Charlie Austin coming in, and followed by Danny Ings, Sam Vokes, Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray, Chris Wood...a conveyor belt of goalscorers.

Vokes is top man in terms of goals scored for the club over the decade, netting 64 in two spells, and some hugely memorable ones as well - he hit 21 to Ings' 26 in all competitions in 2013/14, the goal which sealed promotion in 2016, and Burnley's first in Europe for 51 years at Aberdeen.

Ings finished with 43 before leaving for Liverpool, two less than the lethal Austin, while Barnes currently has 42, of which 37 have come in the Premier League.

No other player in Burnley's Premier League years can top that haul.

Rodriguez had 36 before adding three after returning this summer, and Gray claimed 33, including 25 to finish as Championship top-scorer in 2016.

And Wood's strike rate at this level is admirable, with 30 in all competitions since a £15m switch from Leeds.

Wood and Barnes get the nod, simply because they are doing it week in, week out at the top level, and are on target to both hit double figures for a third-successive season.

So my XI is: Heaton; Trippier, Keane, Tarkowski, Mee; Arfield, Cork, Marney, McNeil; Barnes, Wood.

Let me know your XIs and whether you agree or disagree with my selection.