When Burnley were relegated to the Championship in the 2021/22 campaign, it was fairly obvious who from their relegated side would be snapped up in the summer. The spine of the team went, Nick Pope joined Newcastle whilst defensive rocks Ben Mee and James Tarkowski also got Premier League moves. Star signing Wout Weghorst initially left for Besiktas on loan before moving to Manchester United in January, whilst Maxwel Cornet, Dwight McNeil and Nathan Collins also jumped from what looked like a sinking ship, with rumours of impending financial doom swirling.
Less than a year later and Burnley are coming back to the big time. Vincent Kompany and his recruitment team have made a number of shrewd signings, from a range of leagues, to ensure that the former Manchester City captain could implement his style on the Lancashire side. Bar one or two the recruitment has been spot on, so let’s take a look at seven players who had made a massive impact on this brilliant season for Burnley.
Josh Cullen (27)
Former Club: Anderlecht
Transfer Fee: €3 million
Let’s start with the player who has been perhaps Kompany’s most important signing so far, midfield metronome Josh Cullen. Cullen came through West Ham’s famous academy and endured a number of loan spells before leaving permanently for Anderlecht in 2020.
The Irish international is technically brilliant and has proved himself a pivotal part of the way Burnley play. Often picking up the ball off the centre backs early in the build-up and then looking to play progressive, ambitious passes immediately. With an excellent weight of pass and a very consistent ability in one on one defensive duels, Cullen doubles up as a technical talent and consistent all-rounder for his side – no wonder Vincent Kompany described him as the “ultimate player”.
Despite bemusement that he hasn’t made the Championship Team of the Season, Cullen’s ability has been there for all to see across the course of the season. The measly transfer fee looks comical in comparison to the midfielder’s impact at Burnley, but only time will tell if Cullen can display the same attributes in the Premier League.
Anass Zaroury (21)
Former Club: Charleroi
Transfer Fee: €4 million
It’s no surprise that Burnley largely looked to the Belgian Jupiler Pro League for their summer signings, given not only Kompany’s nationality but also he and his coaching staff’s time at Anderlecht. One talent who adjusted quicker than most from Belgium was Morocco international Anass Zaroury, even if he hasn’t quite reached the same level since his surprise emergency call-up to the World Cup.
Although seven league goals and four assists in his first season in English football is a respectable tally, it doesn’t tell the full story of Zaroury’s influence. The winger played a key role in kickstarting the Clarets’ campaign, a brilliant October saw Zaroury be influential in wins against Swansea and Sunderland as well as a memorable last-minute winner against Reading at Turf Moor.
Quick, brilliant dribbling ability and eye for a goal from a distance are all traits Burnley fans have come to love about him but if Zaroury is going to make the step up he will have to become more consistent with his end product in the final third, particularly his crossing. A young player with plenty of time to work on his game under an excellent manager.
Manuel Benson (25)
Former Club: Royal Antwerp
Transfer Fee: €4 million
Another player from the Belgian league on this list gives a clear idea of where the Bunley recruitment turned to replace their old guard. Manuel Benson has been an absolute menace coming in from the right-hand side onto his stronger left foot, so much so that he has recently gone four games in a row scoring an incredibly similar, Arjen Robben-style goal in each. Against Rotherham, QPR, Blackburn and Bristol City the Belgian under-21 international has cut inside and bent a shot into the far corner.
The goal against Blackburn was the one which sealed the title and made all the sweeter for Burnley fans by doing so at their rival’s home ground in a 1-0 win. There is generally less doubt that Benson will be able to make the step up to the Premier League than his counterpart Anass Zaroury. Benson is slightly older at 25, and has proved more consistent as the season has gone on – contributing an excellent 11 goals and 3 assists in the league.
Nathan Tella (23)
Former Club: Southampton (loan)
Nathan Tella has been a revelation since his loan signing from Southampton. Playing off the right wing, Tella has scored 17 times in the league this season, putting himself top of Burnley’s goal-scoring charts and fifth in the Championship overall.
The elephant in the room is obviously that – it looks like Tella’s parent club Southampton are verging on relegation into the league Tella was about to escape, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the summer with the player’s future. Southampton teammate Will Smalllbone, currently on loan at Stoke, recently said that he and Tella’s Championship experience could help the Saints if they were to go down.
A joyous character who has personified all that has been good about Burnley this season with his tireless work ethic and ability to sniff out goal-scoring opportunities. Particular highlights include hat-tricks at home to Preston North End and away at Hull City.
Jordan Beyer (22)
Former Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach (loan)
Many Burnley fans’ pick for Player of the Season, the young German has been a stalwart at centre back across the course of what can be a brutally long Championship campaign. Having played for Germany at every age group from U16 to U21, the defender has been a hot prospect virtually his whole career but has come on leaps and bounds this season.
Beyer is a thoroughly competitive defender who quickly adapted to the physical nature of the Championship but vitally he managed to retain his exceptional ability on the ball, whether it be changing the tempo to suit his team in different phases or distributing effectively. Rumours are naturally swirling that Burnley would like to secure Beyer permanently for their return to the Premier League.
Ian Maatsen (20)
Former Club: Chelsea (loan)
The fact that Ian Maatsen has been very good at left back at Burnley this season won’t surprise those who follow Chelsea or Championship football in general. Maatsen had a very productive loan spell at Coventry in the 21/22 season where he helped the Sky Blues to a 12th-place finish in just their second season back in the second division.
The Dutchman has significantly improved defensively this season but that side of his game will still require work if the future Chelsea manager is to have a look at him in the upcoming pre-season. The strength of Maatsen’s game lies in bombing into the final third from his defensive position, ranking highly amongst Championship defenders for dangerous passes, progressive passes, goal contributions and shots per 90 minutes. Whatever the future holds for Maatsen, he’s been key in Kompany’s transformation of Burnley – 4 goals and 6 assists from left back.
Arijanet Muric (23)
Former Club: Burnley
Transfer Fee: €3 million
Arijanet Muric seems to have really found a home at Burnley, having been shipped out on five different loan moves which took the goalkeeper from Spain to the Netherlands to Turkey, he finally got a permanent move last summer when he joined The Clarets.
For Vincent Kompany, Craig Bellamy and the rest of the coaching staff to implement their style of play, the first thing they were going to need was a goalkeeper who was comfortable with the ball at his feet. Similarly to Pep Guardiola replacing Joe Hart with Claudio Bravo, the emphasis was all about the keeper’s role in possession of the ball with shot-stopping coming almost secondary.
Thankfully for Burnley, they have a keeper who can do both. The Kosovan number 1 has been really solid all things considered. Muric has been praised relentlessly for his phenomenal ability with the ball at his feet and his bravery when it comes to distribution to start his side’s attacking patterns of play. Like most goalkeepers, he’s had to overcome a couple of mental hurdles (not least a howler against Watford) but Muric is rightly seen as the signing that sparked the Vincent Kompany revolution.
By: Wilf MacDonnell / @WilfMacdonnell
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Rich Linley – CameraSport