Vincent Kompany’s Burnley revolution will be built on young shoulders
Vincent Kompany wasted no time in ushering in a new era for the Burnley defence.
July 1 marked the official expiration of James Tarkowski and Ben Mee’s contracts – and life after one of the club’s best centre-back partnerships is on.
Leaders on the pitch and in the dressing room, Mee and Tarkowski embodied everything about the club and were the foundations, along with goalkeeper Nick Pope, on which the seasons were built.
With Tarkowski finalizing his move to Everton and Mee set to join a Premier League side, new manager Kompany has plenty of work to do to bolster a central defensive unit of Kevin Long and Nathan Collins upon his arrival.
The job was a priority in the transfer market and it’s no surprise Burnley acted so quickly, given the centre-back is where Kompany played during his trophy-laden Manchester City career.
Unless Long and Collins start this opener at Huddersfield Town on Friday July 29, Burnley will be testing a new centre-back pairing – and they’re likely to be young.
That’s because 22-year-old Luke McNally, 20-year-old Taylor Harwood-Bellis and 19-year-old CJ Egan-Riley all arrived last week to compete for spots.
Burnley’s aim entering the summer transfer window was to significantly revamp the squad after relegation after a six-year spell in the Premier League – evolution by revolution.
They left with a sizable roster of players, all under the age of 24, and the average age of new signings so far is 20.8.
That should continue with a move for Standard Liege striker Jackson Muleka, 22, who is expected to progress. The same goes for his teammate, 25-year-old midfielder Samuel Bastien, with both transfers due to be completed next week.
These signings are in line with ALK Capital’s global model of owners: acquiring young players on long-term contracts, developing them, then reselling them at higher fees. It’s a sustainable way to work for a club that’s not swimming in money.
McNally was the first through the door at Oxford United of League One and exemplifies that idea. While there is a ruthlessness to his game, largely because he’s only been playing English league football for 18 months, he’s sure working with Kompany will help polish it.
It was a quick rise for McNally, who joined Oxford in January 2021 from Dublin-based League of Ireland side St Patrick’s Athletic and only really established himself as a regular starter in the second half. of last season.
Despite his inexperience, a player whose career began at Enfield Celtic in County Meath has attracted a lot of interest this summer, and Burnley’s has always been solid.
Burnley’s first two offers were rejected and they began to consider other options, including Arsenal’s Daniel Ballard, who has since joined fellow Championship side Sunderland. They remained interested in McNally and eventually the two sides agreed on a price of £1.6m plus add-ons, which could climb to around £2m.
A phone call with Kompany was crucial in making McNally’s decision. Kompany played a key role in the recruiting strategy, personally addressing each new signing – and potential candidates. He was detailed in his vision for each player, referring to stats and analysis to explain how they will fit into his team.
It is on the same page as the property group. Several targets for each position are studied in detail using an analytical model set up by ALK and decisions are then made, with initial lists reduced to shortlists.
McNally may be seen as a longer-term prospect, given his lack of experience, but he has the qualities to succeed. He plays taller than the 6-foot-3 he stands, due to his ability to jump. He is described as athletic, strong, good in one-on-one situations, and dominant in both squares.
An adjustment for McNally will move from the back-three he played in for Oxford, to the back-four line Kompany is expected to deploy. The key area Kompany wants to work on with the Irishman is believed to be playing from the back.
Although McNally has no experience at Championship level and is a long-term project, that doesn’t mean he’s ruled out making a significant short-term contribution.
The same goes for Egan-Riley, who is the least experienced of the three entrants – although the first-team minutes he has played have been at the highest level.
After being scouted by City scouts, he signed for the club aged eight and progressed through their academy teams, captaining many of them, while earning recognition from England from under 15 to under 19. He is a natural leader and has been described as having an old head on young shoulders.
After a senior debut last September in the Carabao Cup against Wycombe Wanderers, Egan-Riley’s next appearance was in the last 16 of the Champions League, playing the full 90 minutes of the second leg at home to Sporting Lisbon in March. , after a 5-0 victory. in Portugal made the return to Etihad University.
The defender was due to be loaned out to Coventry City, but when interest from Burnley was confirmed, a permanent transfer, which could provide consistent first-team opportunities, was appealed.
Egan-Riley was nearing the end of his contract and Burnley agreed an initial fee of around £400,000 to secure his signing and avoid court. The city inserted a 30% sale clause into the agreement.
Egan-Riley’s versatility will be a bonus. He played for City at right-back but is a natural centre-back with experience as a midfielder.
Harwood-Bellis was one of the first targets mentioned when Kompany was set to get the job from Burnley. The links were evident, not only as a young City centre-back available on loan, but after playing under Kompany for Belgian club Anderlecht on loan in the first half of last season, making 19 appearances.
Asked about Harwood-Bellis at his first press conference, Kompany heaped praise on the England Under-21 international. “Taylor is a wonderful boy and player,” he said. “A leader – someone I have a lot of time for.”
A deal to borrow Harwood-Bellis for the whole of next season has been agreed and he arrives with the most experience of the three new defenders.
After that spell at Anderlecht, he spent the second half of last season on loan in the Championship with Stoke City, starting 22 league games and playing second tier for Blackburn Rovers.
He made eight appearances for Guardiola’s first team in cup competitions.
Many of the decisions Kompany will have to make as they build their defense next season hinge on Collins’ decision to stay.
Burnley want to keep him but there is a price that would bring them to the table. It remains to be seen if any of the clubs who had shown interest in the player decide to make a meaningful offer for the Republic of Ireland international.
The 21-year-old is due to join his teammates early next week as Burnley’s international squad return to training.
Upon his return, a conversation with Kompany will be a top priority. It is understood he believes Collins can be a top centre-back and wants to be the man to develop him into one. The club hope Kompany’s arrival will play a crucial role in retaining Collins.
The former Stoke defender has gained plenty of experience at Championship level and had no trouble adapting to the Premier League last season. If he stays, he will be the No. 1 centre-back.
It will be interesting to see how Kompany uses Long. The last man standing from the previous era, his commitment and attitude have always been praised by Sean Dyche, and at 31 he is significantly more experienced than other centre-backs.
However, Long – a stable and proven product – is entering the final year of his contract and it would be surprising if a renewal were offered if his role as a squad player continues.
The question is whether the Ireland international continues to pass on his behind-the-scenes knowledge to his younger colleagues or if he can claim his own position.
A youthful defense means there will inevitably be some growing pains for Burnley, potentially ahead of a new goalkeeper also with talks underway to sign 23-year-old Manchester City’s Arijanet Muric.
Kompany has worked with and developed young players at Anderlecht. The aim is to do the same at Burnley – it provides an immediate test of his coaching credentials.
(Main image: Egan-Riley, Harwood-Bellis and McNally have joined Burnley. Top photos: Getty Images)