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ON THE ROAD: Vincent Kompany’s Burnley Revolution is underway…he’s thrown out Route One football


In the narrow streets around Turf Moor, they still can’t quite let it go. There is still the Royal Dyche pub, with the sign above the door showing the man in question in chest armor and monarchical pose as he stares into the medium range.

Still Royal Dyche lager sold indoors, with 5 pence of each pint going to charity. Still the words ‘Sean Dyche’s bordeaux and blue army’ on the bar and a Maxwel Cornet scarf pinned on the way to the door, even though he’s now at West Ham. The Dychian credo still adorns the huts of the program vendors outside on Yorkshire Street: ‘Legs, hearts and minds.’

It was one thing to defenestrate the man, quite another to replace him with something completely different. Vincent Kompany, his successor, has ditched Route One and replaced it with what he knows: a cumbersome, patient, elaborate, passing route to the goal.

The revolution led by manager Vincent Kompany at Burnley is in full swing

This can make fans nervous. Last week, as the team carefully manipulated the ball around Preston’s pitch en route to their fifth draw of the season, one of the Burnley traveling contingents could be heard roaring: ‘Never mind!’

It will take time to adjust to what Kompany has brought. On Saturday afternoon, Burnley’s two young centre-halfs stood on the six-yard box to receive the ball from Manchester City goalkeeper Arijanet Muric, where they teach their goalkeepers to pass, the home fans being curiously silent. Bristol’s contingent made the noise. This felt very much like fear.

Manuel Benson celebrates with Josh Brownhill after scoring in 2-1 win against Bristol City

Manuel Benson celebrates with Josh Brownhill after scoring in 2-1 win against Bristol City

Half an hour in the Koninklijke Dijk says a lot about how the initial gruff skepticism gives way to acceptance. Some supporters are done with the existential struggle for survival and just want football to make the heart beat faster.

“How long could it all go on as it was?” says Sarah, a teaching assistant in her thirties. “We needed a fresh start.”

That start brought with it a heavy penalty. Last season’s relegation resulted in a £32.3 million fine for early repayment of investment house MSD Holdings, which loaned Burnley’s American owner Alan Pace the money to buy the club. Kompany then spent £45million less on players over the summer than he had recouped, despite needing 16 additions to replace those who left.

Necessity was the mother of invention. Although the massive ranks of Nick Pope, Ben Mee, James Tarkowski, Dwight McNeil and Cornet are now spread across the four corners, Kompany came up with a reputation that made Manchester City, Chelsea and Southampton willing to lend their talents to him.

Ian Maatsen, who also found the net against Bristol City, gets a hug from Kompany

Ian Maatsen, who also found the net against Bristol City, gets a hug from Kompany

His status as captain of Belgium and manager of Anderlecht has also made some of his home country’s best talent eager to follow him in these hills. And so against that timeless and unchanging Turf Moor backdrop — the sandstone back-to-back terraces, cotton mills and industrial chimneys with the eastern Pennines stretching beyond — this ground has seen a new breed of football pay off, with young, tech-savvy core players.

Manuel Benson, recruited from Royal Antwerp for £3.6million, is hardened for the championship by positioning himself against the most aggressive fullbacks in training by Kompany and never awarded a free kick in that environment.

He collected a loose ball and was gone before Bristol City’s Alex Scott could set foot on it. He raced into the area to score from the inside of the post.

Kompany has replaced Burnley's previous Route One football with a fluid passing game

Kompany has replaced Burnley’s previous Route One football with a fluid passing game

Ian Maatsen, a superb Dutch Chelsea mercenary, delivered the most agile first time of the afternoon to give Southampton mercenary Nathan Tella a golden opportunity that really should have scored.

When the smooth passes reached a dead end, the ball was returned to Taylor Harwood-Bellis, an elegant, impressive centre-back in Kompany’s own mold, borrowed here from Manchester City, who started the process again.

Kompany, who also had Harwood-Bellis on loan from Anderlecht, sees him as an integral part of Burnley’s ambitions.

Burnley's old guard, including captain Jack Cork, has melted into this new team

Burnley’s old guard, including captain Jack Cork, has melted into this new team

And then there was Burnley’s old guard, fused into this new team and clearly reborn. Jack Cork is the captain and focal point. Josh Brownhill is a No. 10 for the first time in years and is thriving. Jay Rodriguez, the most cheerful, scores goals.

It was he who headed in the winner, his fifth goal of the season, from a second half cross by substitute Johann Berg Gudmundsson after Bristol’s Nahki Wells equalized from a corner. A tendency to ignore superiority has led to five draws this season. The team held out this time.

Kompany is wise enough to insist that he sticks to other established principles. Burnley has always been known as a hard-working team, with guys who are brave. That’s what I wanted to keep,” he said after his team finished fourth in the rankings.

Not all changes at Turf Moor are for the better. They messed around with the burgundy home shirt and applied blue dots on it. Such a beautiful sweater should be sacred. But to see the players so intimately acquainted with struggle and toil batting the ball around the turf in Saturday’s brilliant autumn sun suggested there is fun in leaving the past where it belongs. “You have to break the circle a little bit and put it behind you,” Kompany added.

“Before the first game there was a lot of uncertainty, but today there is music in the team. It is a team that certainly gives hope. And hope is important.’

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