Dyche deserves credit for Clarets progress says Caldwell
UNEXPECTED events have occurred since Steven Caldwell left Burnley.
For starters he has emigrated to Canada, where he is captain of pioneering Major League Soccer side Toronto FC.
Back home, his old club is on the cusp of the Premier League once more.
Both are situations the Scot could not have envisaged 12 months ago, when there were question marks over his future with Birmingham City and similar uncertainty at Burnley, with safety only absolutely guaranteed in the penultimate game.
But almost five years after captaining the Clarets to promotion, Caldwell could not be happier at their seemingly imminent return to the top flight.
Ten points clear of third place, and with the chance to take top spot from Leicester City this lunchtime, he admits it would be more of a surprise if Burnley did not go up now.
“Everyone was thinking that Burnley were going to fall away, but they are going to the next level,” said the popular former skipper.
“That’s great credit to the lads for staying fit and professional and doing their jobs when the pressure rises to kick on and win more games. That’s testament to the concentration and focus.
“It’s all credit to Sean Dyche too because they will have cut the wage bill and he’s spent hardly anything on new signings.
“He’s prepared the lads and they’re going out and doing it every week.
“At the start of the season I felt if they could be in and around the play-offs even that would be an incredible achivement. He’s done a phenomenal job. He’s my Championship manager of the year.”
He was almost Caldwell’s manager two seasons ago.
After leaving Wigan in the summer of 2011, Dyche looked at the defender when he took charge of Watford.
Caldwell opted for St Andrew’s in the end, but felt compelled to contact Dyche about his decision.
“He wanted me to go to Watford. I was really impressed with how he spoke and I was keen to go, but then Birmingham came up and that worked out better for me,” said the Scot.
“But I called him up to tell him because he impressed me that much. I felt I owed him that.”
The Pozzo family’s takeover brought Dyche’s tenure at Vicarage Road to an end after just one season, a decision Caldwell is sure they must now regret.
But he sees Watford’s loss very much as Burnley’s gain.
“I think players like him,” he said. “He’s straight talking, likes to have a laugh but is serious about the football.
“I just hope Burnley can give him a few quid to stay up and that he doesn’t leave. It’s a problem at a club like Burnley if a guy does well and something else comes up.”
It is as if Caldwell is re-living that scenario when he broaches the idea.
Lasting only one season in the Premier League with Burnley, when Owen Coyle left halfway through, is a regret.
“Getting relegated was so disappointing,” said Caldwell.
His personal love affair with the Premier League continued with Wigan Athletic a year later, at the end of his Clarets contract.
But he likes to think that what Burnley are on the brink of achieving now is a legacy of the class of 2008/09.
“We gave the club and whole area the belief that Burnley can be a Premier League team,” said the centre half.
“I’m biased but I’m really proud of the team that we had. The guys are very close friends of mine and we had a perfect blend.
“We had experience, camaraderie and a huge amount of talent – lads who peaked at the right time of their career.”
Only Michael Duff remains from that team, the rest have moved on, with Caldwell’s own career continuing across the Atlantic, where he names Jermain Defoe among his team-mates.
“I’m so pleased to be at Toronto. We’ve had some unbelievable acquisitions and we’re having a real go at raising the bar for everyone to keep up – the likes of New York, LA, Seattle,” said the 33-year-old.
“It’s great to be here. They’re a good bunch of boys and I feel like we’re going to be very successful.”
Caldwell is no stranger to silveware, having won the Championship title with Sunderland in 2005. He scaled the steps to the Royal Box to lift the same division’s play-off prize as captain of Burnley in 2009.
Caldwell sensed it could happen for the Clarets that year.
“With us we always hoped it was going to be play-offs, so it was slightly different compared to today’s team,” he said.
“Belief had been rising for months and months, probably during our cup run when we were beating some excellent teams. We knew we had something going.
“We were a touch inconsistent at the start of the season but we could turn it on.
“As we started getting into New Year we were becoming more consistent and more settled.
“If we went a goal or two down we felt we could come back.
“We felt no-one wanted to play us. We had that arrogance and confidence when we were on our game, especially at home.
“Turf Moor was a factor,” Caldwell added. “I’ve played at Turf Moor for the opposition and when you open that door to come out of that wind tunnel, a part of you – no matter how professional you are – thinks ‘I don’t know if I fancy this’.
“Teams wanted an easy night and we felt we could get on top of them and test their commitment to winning the game.
“We beat a lot of teams mentally.”
Unbeaten at home in the Championship in more than a calendar year the Clarets hold a similar psychological advantage now, one that Caldwell believes they can sustain for the duration.
And when he wakes up in Salt Lake City today, ahead of Toronto’s third game of the season against Real Salt Lake, he hopes it’s enough to send them to the summit.
“It’s exciting to win the play-offs and get to Wembley, but there is nothing better than having that automatic promotion. It’s just phenomenal,” he said.
“They are on some run and it looks like they are going back to the big league. I hope so, because it’s a super club with some good people there.
“I hope they can carry on what we started.”
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