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When Burnley sold Michael Keane in the summer, those who didn’t particularly follow the Lancashire side were expecting the club to spend some of the record £30million they received from Everton to replace the centre-half.
But Sean Dyche was insistent that he didn’t need to splash the cash and already had Keane’s replacement in situ at Turf Moor.
He felt that it was time for James Tarkowski to step up and prove himself, despite the former Brentford defender playing just 595 minutes of Premier League football during the 2016/17 season.
In August, Dyche said: “A few years ago we put our trust in Keane and that worked out all right.
“You can't guarantee it. You develop the players with a view to improve and doing well now.
“Keano needed to go through that last time in the Premier League to get to where he's got to.
“I was given the chance to encourage that development period where others would've been sacked, but he needed that to learn about the game.”
He obviously felt that it was fair to give Tarkowski a chance given the patience he’d shown in trying to break up the Keane and Ben Mee partnership.
The defender wasn’t playing not through any fault of his own, just because Keane and Mee were in such good form.
And when Burnley beat Chelsea on the first game of this season with Tarkowski starting he’d proved his manager right.
“I’ve worked hard, put in plenty of work in the off season and pre-season, and tried to prove I should be the one in the team,” he said at the time.
“Fortunately for the first game he’s picked me. Hopefully there’ll be more to come.
“I can only do what I can do. I can’t affect the manager’s decision on who he picks in the team apart from me doing my own thing.”
And since then he’s gone onto prove himself as part of one of the best defences in the league so far.
Burnley have only conceded 19 league goals as they sit seventh in the Premier League after 22 games, with 34 points.
But while City top the Premier League rankings in terms of possession with 66.4 per cent, Burnley are way down in 18th, with 43.9 per cent.
And that will attract pressure, so it means both Mee and Tarkowski will have to be busy, and they certainly have been.
Tarkowski’s has averaged 7.8 clearances per 90 in the Premier League, while Mee has averaged 7.4 – Everton‘s Ashley Williams is the busiest around with 8.8.
He also is towards the top of the Premier League statistics in terms of aerial duels won, averaging 5.2 per 90 – the highest of any central defender.
For games when Burnley are pinned in and need to stay strong, that’s a crucial skill, and with Mee just behind him on 4.3, it’s obvious the defensive pair are thriving together, especially in the air.
In a Dyche team, Tarkowski is proving himself to be the perfect man, someone who thrives with the art of old-school defending.
When asked by the Daily Mail about why Burnley are so successful this season, he had a simple answer.
“Hard work,” he said. “The manager deserves a lot of credit. He brought some great players but they are all great personalities.
“Down-to-earth, hard-working, willing to listen and follow instructions. It's about doing the dirty things consistently. Playing nice football only gets you so far.
“We are willing to do the horrible side. The blocks, the tackles, the running. It's easy to say, but you have to do it as a team. The gaffer is big on it. Be mentally right, be physically right.”
Tarkowski refuses to take much credit for Burnley’s form, saying it’s a team effort.
“I know the defence gets a lot of praise for getting the blocks in and the clearances, but the front lads work just as hard as we do to stop the ball getting that far up the pitch,” he told the Lancashire Telegraph.
“It’s not just about individuals at the back, it’s about the way we work as a team and it’s been good so far.”
But while he continues in the form he is in, he can’t carry on batting away praise for too much longer – and it's clear the club see that too, with him signing a new deal until the summer of 2022 today.
And in a World Cup year, if he and Mee continue the form they’re in, they could very well be among the names Gareth Southgate is considering for Russia – that would be a stratospheric rise for someone who sat on the bench for most of last season.