Coyle's survival plan based on youthful promise

Last updated : 11 July 2009 By Richard Oldroyd
Tyrone Mears
Tyrone Mears - the elder statesman of Coyle's cash signings
Coyle has spent transfer fees on 6 outfield players since he arrived at Turf Moor - and of those, Tyrone Mears is the elder statesman at 26. His fellow arrivals to date this summer, Steven Fletcher and David Edgar, are both 22.

They join an already youthful nucleus of talent which includes last summer's triumvirate of purchases, McDonald, Eagles and Paterson, plus home reared talents Rodriguez and McCann.

And if media signals prove an accurate guide, we can expect further young blood to arrive, principally from north of the border, when Owen Coyle next pays a transfer fee. James McCarthy, Brian Easton and Andrew Driver, of Hamilton Academical and Heart of Midlothian respectively, appear to top the list of targets.

In a sense, what Coyle is doing is simply returning Burnley to its historic creed, albeit in an updated form. Fishing well-stocked but under-exploited ponds was Burnley's game in the post-war years, when the North East was plundered for talent neglected by bigger clubs.

Now, the target appears to be Scotland and the players, instead of arriving from youth clubs, are a little older - but the principle remains the same. Find players whose technique and attitude align with the ingrained style of the club, and give them the opportunity to grow and establish themselves in a supportive environment, making a virtue of teamwork and improvement in order to beat a wealthier, established elite.

It is doubtful whether any newly promoted side in the Premier League era has attempted to survive with a squad as callow as that which Coyle is building. For that reason, you might describe his vision of a survival based upon youthful exuberance and passing football as idealistic. But you could look at it a different way - because you sense Coyle already has one eye on the future beyond next season.

If Burnley are relegated, Coyle reasons, then he is unlikely to make a loss on any of the players he has signed in the event that they wish to leave. But wages will not force him to immediately dispose of talented pieces of his jigsaw and it will remain possible that he could retain virtually all of the team he has built, maximising Burnley's chances of a quick return.

On the other hand, if Coyle does succeed in keeping Burnley up, then he will have at his disposal a young squad which will have proved itself capable of holding its own at Premier League level whilst still a work in progress.

And that is the truly intoxicating thing about Coyle's strategy.

It is perhaps naïve to believe that in this million-dollar age, a club like Burnley could build and keep together a squad of young players who grow together into a team capable of challenging for honours. Football's glass ceiling has been replaced with a concrete roof over the years and Burnley will not explode through it: eventually, wages and the prospect of greater glories fuelled by deeper transfer kitties will persuade those players worthy of a bigger stage to leave.

But it may not be so fanciful to imagine that if such a youthful team pulls off survival this season, it could be kept together for a couple of seasons after this, improving every year, establishing Burnley as a mid-table force in the Premier League which is capable of a decent cup run now and again.

Simultaneously, Burnley's reputation as a good nursery for promising talents from outside the Premier League would be secured - and with it, Burnley's chances of repeating the trick with future generations enhanced.

In addition, Coyle knows that these are players who can appreciate in value. There are those who argue that Burnley should leave the windfall resulting from this Premier League adventure under the mattress for future rainy days. Yet as values in football continue to inflate, that windfall will never be worth so much again and unless that money is set to work on behalf of Burnley Football Club, its ability to serve the club in the future will rapidly diminish.

And so Burnley should invest the money in football's most scarce commodities: good young players, carefully sourced to be sure their value is likely to increase and realise a good profit for the club should they ultimately be sold.

If there was ever any debate about Burnley's strategy this summer, one imagines this was Owen Coyle's argument. It appears he won the day - and we should be thankful that he did because it is a strategy which offers the greatest chance of long term reward whilst also arguably offering the lowest short-term risks.