Nick Pope's return causes selection headache for Sean Dyche
Sean Dyche and Burnley have not had great luck when it comes to goalkeepers in recent seasons. They can’t find one who can shoulder the burden, so to speak.
Tom Heaton established himself as firm first choice at Turf Moor in October 2017. He travelled to Euro 2016 with Roy Hodgson’s England squad. Then a dislocated shoulder suffered against Crystal Palace put the goalkeeper out of action for most of the 2017/18 season.
With the transfer window months away, Sean Dyche called on reserve keeper Nick Pope. The 26-year-old signed from Charlton in 2016 but had only appeared in cup competitions for the Clarets. Pope went onto make 35 Premier League appearances in 17/18, keeping 12 clean sheets. His reputation soared as the season progressed.
Even when Heaton returned towards the end of the season, Pope kept his place between the posts. His first England call-up came in March. He debuted as a substitute against Costa Rica in the Three Lions’ final World Cup warm-up. Pope was part of Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions squad for the memorable tournament.
All was going brilliantly for the former Charlton man. Burnley’s seventh-place Premier League finish qualified the Clarets for the Europa League. Pope collided with defender James Tarkowski during a match against Aberdeen. The result? A separated shoulder.
Again, the injury shelved Dyche’s no.1 for several months. With an opportunity to win back his place, Tom Heaton came up lame with a calf injury. Dyche turned to third choice and former Manchester United backup, Anders Lindegaard, for the return fixture.
Fortunately for Dyche and Burnley but not Lindegaard, who could only watch Sir Alex Ferguson bring in David de Gea when Edwin van der Sar retired, the transfer window was still open. UEFA allowed them special dispensation to name another goalkeeper to their squad. The Clarets promptly moved unfavoured Manchester City man, Joe Hart, agreeing a fee of around £3.5 million for the former England number one.
Hart has played all save two games since his move to Turf Moor, establishing himself as Dyche’s first choice goalkeeper ahead of fit-again Heaton.
Five months after his injury, Pope is well on the road to full recovery. He played a full 90 minutes for Burnley’s U23 side last week. Sooner rather than later, he will be available for Dyche to select.
While this will be seen as good news for Burnley fans, it will cause a headache for the manager. Dyche acknowledged it will be a challenge to keep all his goalkeepers happy.
It's easier [to keep them all happy] at the moment, because common sense applies. Injuries, fitness, game ready… In the longer term, we'll see. In the long run there'll be someone who won't be as happy, quite obviously, but we're not there yet. We'll sort that out when we come to it. Those are the challenges you want as a manager; you want that level of competition where someone can't stay and some form of disappointment occurs because they're not playing every week.
When Pope returns, Dyche will have three England goalkeepers from which to choose, not to mention backups Anders Lindegaard and Adam Legzdins.
With only one space available in the starting lineup and another in the matchday squad, living quarters are tight. Whatever his final choice, the Burnley manager will be left with at least three disappointed players. How he deals with this will impact the dressing room, especially with the team struggling towards the bottom of the table this term.
Dyche has a long list of questions to resolve:
- Does he stick with current first choice Hart?
- Does he return Pope to the starting XI?
- Does he turn to club captain Heaton as the first choice?
- Then what does he do with Lindegaard
- And Legzdins?
The latest reports suggest Heaton may be Dyche’s scapegoat, with the 32-year-old available for transfer during the January window.
The dilemma may cause Dyche a few sleepless nights but he’d much rather be in that situation than the desperate straits that brought Joe Hart to Turf Moor. Ultimately, the choice of three England players in one position demonstrates how far the club has come in just a few years.