Danny Drinkwater can rediscover his best form, insists Burnley boss Sean Dyche
Dyche and his staff have urged the on-loan Chelsea midfielder to forget the last couple of seasons, and a testing time to his spell at Turf Moor, and focus on rediscovering the level of performance which helped Leicester win the Premier League title in 2016, and two England caps under Roy Hodgson that same year.
Since leaving the King Power Stadium for £35m in the summer of 2017, Drinkwater has only made 12 appearances in the Premier League, all in his first season at Stamford Bridge.
He didn’t figure at all under Maurizio Sarri last season, and yet to play a minute in the top flight for the Clarets, having suffered an ankle injury in an attack outside a Manchester nightclub at the end of August, just after breaking into the Burnley squad.
That has cost him just over two months as he looks to impress Dyche, who worked with him while assistant boss at Watford.
Asked whether he can get back to the level he was at three years or so ago, Dyche said: “I think he can. It takes time to get that true sharpness, but I think he’s capable, he’s a very good player.
“You don’t become a bad player, it’s just that sharpness, that game-readiness that players search for, and one of the downsides now is players often don’t play a lot of football when they’re not in the side.
“When I was growing up, the reserve side of Nottingham Forest was taken deadly serious, Brian Clough used to travel with the team and watch them.
“We won the Central League and he made us parade the trophy around the ground before the last game of the season. His belief was if your reserve team is strong, that means your first team is.
“I think that’s changed in football now.
“We play our players who aren’t playing here, not every game, but make sure they keep up with a games programme, and he needs regular football.
“Training isn’t the same as playing, so we’re trying to get enough games into him to make him ready, and should his chance come, it’s for him to take it and build on that for the bigger picture.”
In hindsight, the move to Chelsea has seen his career stall, but Dyche thinks he should just focus on what he can affect now: “With all respect, Leicester won the league, did we think they’d win it again? No. Did we think Chelsea had a chance? Yes. The club gets offered £30-35m, I think it’s tough to turn it down.
“Every player has a moment when they have to make a decision. I don’t think it’s anything to look back on, now he should be looking to the future, I wouldn’t be worried about the past. We’re encouraging that, to work on what comes next.”
What comes next will influence whether he stays at Turf Moor for the remainder of the season or not, with his loan due to expire on January 6th.
Contrary to some reports, Dyche has not made his mind up yet: “We haven't really seen him. Of course we know what he does in training, we've seen that, but it's the games, everyone gets judged on the games.
“It’s too early to worry about that, we want to see him fit first, get on the pitch at some point and then take it from there.
“I've spoken about the bigger picture to him because he's desperate to play.
“Working hard, trying to get back fit. An incident that can happen and then you've got to recover from that. But it's the bigger picture.
“We're not going to push someone who's not quite there, we're not going to force anything upon them, I wouldn't with anyone here, whether they're on loan or one of my players who’s under contract here.
“I think it's a case of appropriate timing , when he's ready, and of course displacing someone else, because we like the midfield players we've got here. He knows it's a challenge, he knew it when he came here.”