The Akinbiyi Conundrum

Last updated : 29 January 2006 By Richard Oldroyd
Having made a huge impact on Turf Moor during his brief spell, he leaves one hell of a big hole – which somebody will have to fill.

It is a deal which will provoke mixed feelings amongst most Clarets. It is, firstly, an excellent deal in pure business terms. Having signed him for £600,000 barely twelve months ago, a deal netting us in the region of £1,500,000 represents a tidy profit. It is some way above the player’s market value, especially given that he is a 31 year old whose value is only ever going to drop.

The idea that selling him at all demonstrates a lack of ambition is absurd. Leaving aside all arguments about whether we could have stepped into the transfer market in early January to bolster the squad and sustain a play-off push, the fact is that a bad month has put paid to any chances of finishing in the top six. In any event, to dismiss all bids out of hand on the basis that we might qualify for the annual promotion lottery – where we would have only a one-in-four chance of success – would be to show the business acumen of a two year old.

Yet the proof of how good a deal it really is will come in the next few days. We have been told that the ‘vast majority’ of the transfer fee is available for squad strengthening. Given that one would expect that there would be sufficient funds to fund a couple of purchases, it would be unrealistic to expect all the money to be re-invested before the current transfer window closes. But if Burnley fail to make a single signing in the next few days, then expect a wave of disillusionment to wash across Turf Moor.

There are eight home games to go this season, for which there are walk-on fans to be attracted. There are season tickets to be renewed or bought in April. If the fans perceive that the club is lacking ambition, both gates for this season, and season tickets for next, will slump.

There is a feeling amongst Burnley fans just now that the club is progressively attempting to lower expectations. Certainly, many of the comments reported in the local press do not exactly give the impression of an openly ambitious club.

It is a dangerous game. Football fans are a curious breed, and they feed on optimism. Without reason for optimism, many fans will stay away. You can argue to the hilt about whether this is right or wrong; it doesn’t matter. The club needs to keep them on board. Ensuring that it does so ought to be central to their strategy.

And that means that the club should be working overtime in order to keep the fans on board. Even if that entails paying a little over the odds for one of our targets, it might prove to be good business if it reassures the doubters.

It must be said, though, that PR of Burnley Football Club is consistently desperate. Last week, we heard from the three leading figures at Turf Moor – Barry Kilby, Dave Edmundson and Steve Cotterill. Far from singing from the same hymn sheets, they were singing entirely different, and entirely discordant, tunes.

Whether or not opinions differed behind closed doors, a public slanging match was precisely the way to turn supporters away. It succeeded only in painting a negative picture of a club where key figures were out of the loop, and at which players were sold off above the manager’s head. Rightly or wrongly, it gave the impression that assets were being stripped, and the manager’s long-term plans were now in tatters.

All fans want is a club which is honest, and which is genuinely looking upwards. That doesn’t require big risks to be taken, or downright lies to be told. It requires, perhaps, the club to look a little more positively on the future.

Go to any gym across the country, and you will see the same performance slogans. They tell you to aim high, to push yourself, because otherwise you will be disappointed. Football clubs would do best to pay heed to those sayings. If a football club aims, in public, for mediocrity, then it will achieve that level in the short term. It will certainly do no better, and in the long term, the reality of mediocrity will send the club into a downwards spiral.

Managing Burnley is of course a difficult job, for there will always be a gap between potential and expectation which is not easily bridged. Barry Kilby has a difficult juggling act to perform, and he is one of the better chairmen around. But the fact is that, by announcing that our level is at the survival end of the Championship, our ability to sustain even that level of football is called into question.

Ultimately, it is not even a self-fulfilling prophecy; it is a self-defeating one. Show that Ade was sold to balance the books because that is all Burnley will ever be about, and you will guarantee that a negative perception takes root which will drive people away. Prove, quickly, that his sale is going to be used as an opportunity, and any short-term costs will prove more than worthwhile.

I want to believe in Burnley. All Burnley fans want to believe; without that belief, the whole damn enterprise becomes futile. It is up to the board and management to prove that this rather good business deal can be used to generate that hope, and drive Burnley Football Club onwards.