Steven Defour opens up about his Burnley exit - and a potential return to the club!

Steven Defour takes a significant inhalation of breath before retracing his final moments at Burnley.

Tuesday, 25th August 2020, 7:30 am

The silence that follows is a discernible prelude to the tale that the ex-Belgium international tells of his Turf Moor exit.

"Nobody was more frustrated than me," says the midfielder when reflecting on his sudden rise and fall with the Clarets.

"It was so hard mentally to keep getting setbacks. I had been in the best form of my life, I felt really good and then it just stopped."

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Steven Defour of Burnley celebrates scoring the 2nd Burnley goal with Ben Mee during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Burnley at Old Trafford on December 26, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

There didn't appear to be anything untoward when the former creative spark at Standard Liege and Porto walked up the tunnel following a 1-0 loss at home to Manchester United.

But that would be the last time that Burnley fans would see their star man out on the pitch for eight months.

Dyche delivered the unwelcome prognosis on Deadline Day after the Clarets had shared the spoils with Newcastle United at St James's Park.

Defour required surgery on his knee and would play no further part in the 2017/18 campaign, which culminated with Europa League qualification.

Steven Defour of Burnley looks on before the pre season friendly match between Preston North End and Burnley at Deepdale on July 25, 2017 in Preston, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

"I was really gutted that I couldn't finish that season," said Defour, who would manage just nine more appearances for the club.

"It was so hard that I couldn't get back to play for the Burnley fans. My last really good game was before my knee injury and then afterwards it was always very difficult.

"It was hard as well because all the fans started to question 'when will Defour be fully fit?' To read those kinds of things was frustrating because I was doing so much and working so hard just to get back out on the pitch."

In the end, after putting his heart and soul into his rehab, Defour was forced to accept that his time at Burnley was up.

His final appearance for the club was a 5-0 defeat against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in the FA Cup in January 2019.

"I was really sad, especially with the way it ended," he said. "I wanted to get back on the pitch but at some point you just have to be honest with yourself and with the club that had given me so much.

"I just couldn't reach a level of fitness that was required at Burnley. You can't just be game fit, you have to be 'Burnley fit', which we always have a laugh about. It's a different level and I was having doubts.

"I had to make a decision, which wasn't very easy. It was in the summer, when I'd had my rehab and they told me I was good to go, but in the first training session I kept feeling this pain in my calves. Every time I wanted to try and step it up it was just so difficult.

"I think it was the most upsetting time in my career to say 'goodbye' to that club because of the players, the staff and the fans. I really liked it there. I was a bit moody when I wasn't playing, particularly in the first season, but I enjoyed every moment at Burnley.

"It still makes me sad because I still love everything about Burnley."

The 2007 Belgian Golden Shoe winner, rather reluctantly, returned to his roots and teamed up with Royal Antwerp last September at the age of 31.

Defour's head and heart, though, was still with his former employers. He said: "The group of players we had at Burnley and all the people around it were so kind and down-to-earth. Even in the group, there's competition, but you're all one and you're all supportive of each other.

"We were one group, but I always had banter with Tarky, Lowts, Barnesy and Johann sat next to me. We all got along well together as a group, there was Vokesy and Deano as well. It was enjoyable.

"I do miss it because when I came to Antwerp it wasn't the same mentality. When you had team-mates who shared the same mentality and gave 200% every game, then move to a club where you can see the talent but they don't deliver, it's frustrating.

"The atmosphere in the group [makes it tick]. They sometimes criticise the gameplay, playing long ball, but we enjoy those things because it gives us extra motivation. We've shown, whatever happens, we'll always fight until the end for each other."

Defour, who made just 11 appearances on his return to the Belgian First Division, is now a free agent after seeing out his contract at Royal Antwerp and is currently weighing up his options with a number of offers on the table.

None of them, as of yet, have hit the mark, however, which is why the ex-Belgium international is considering giving Sean Dyche a call.

The Burnley boss had vowed to give Defour a helping hand if it was ever needed and a return to the Barnfield Training Centre at Gawthorpe isn't entirely out of the question.

The former Anderlecht man, who is currently working towards his coaching badges, would relish a return to England, even if it's just to keep ticking over ahead of his final chapter.

"With the Covid situation I did lots of running, lots of cycling, so I think my condition has to be one of the best in my career," said Defour.

"It's strange because the market is open until October but clubs are still having financial difficulties so it's difficult. We have interest, we have some concrete options, but not something I am totally convinced by. We've had some offers but at the moment it's not good enough.

"You need a whole package deal; the city you're playing in, the team you're playing for and, at my age, finances as well."

He finished: "I think I'll have to call the 'gaffer' or he could always call me! I did an interview for a magazine and he read about it. He called me directly and said I could get in touch if I ever needed anything. Burnley is an amazing club and if the option was there then why not?

"I'm considering it so I might give him a call at some point if we're still some way off a deal. I might call him. It was several months ago when I last spoke to him, but we'll always have a very good understanding.

"I'm doing the coaching in Belgium with all the internationals. I'm doing the fast track option towards the UEFA B and UEFA A licence. To do the pro licence you have to go to other teams and be there for days and weeks so you would have to quit football to do it.

"Things are sorted out now so if I was to go back to England they would support me. The love and support I got from the Burnley fans was nice. I played for some great teams, but to be a part of Burnley Football Club was a real highlight in my career."