Burnley centre back James Tarkowski grateful to Dean Smith for way he handled his move to Turf Moor

James Tarkowski in his time at Brentford
James Tarkowski in his time at Brentford

Clarets centre back James Tarkowski won’t forget the way Dean Smith handled a very sensitive situation while the pair were at Brentford.

Tarkowski will line up against Smith’s Aston Villa, having played under him briefly with the Bees, before his £3m switch to Burnley in January 2016.

Smith only took over at Griffin Park at the end of November 2015, and in January 2016, ahead of Burnley’s trip to Brentford - amid interest from the Clarets - Tarkowski informed him he didn’t want to play in the game.

Smith said that night, after a 3-1 defeat: “James came to my office and said he didn't want to play.

“I told him I thought he was making a mistake and he'd been misguided.

“I like the lad and we all make decisions we sometimes regret and he'll regret it. It's one of those things and we'll move on.”

But it wasn’t as simple as a player seeking a move to a club closing in on promotion to the Premier League, as Tarkowski explained in a statement a few days later: “Unfortunately my mum has a serious, incurable illness and her condition has been getting steadily worse.

“It became clear to me that I needed to get closer to home to support both her and my dad.

"I was open and up front about this with the club, who were sympathetic and said they'd work with me and my agent to try to reach a solution which worked well for the club whilst giving me the possibility to move to closer to my mum.

“I decided not to put in a transfer request as we agreed it would be better to work together on this.”

The move eventually went through, and Tarkowski said, ahead of meeting his former boss: “When he joined the club it was a difficult time for me, because at the time I was trying to leave Brentford.

“So it was obviously difficult for Dean and myself.

“But the way he treated me throughout that time means I’ve only got the utmost respect for him.

“He was very personal towards me and really tried to help me out, even though things weren’t going the way either of us would have wanted.

“And ever since I left we’ve kept him in contact, so I’m very grateful for the way he treated me.

“And I’m pleased to see how well he’s done.

“It was difficult the way I left Brentford, and I sort of wish it hadn’t gone that way.

“But it’s the way it ended up. Deano treated me so well throughout that period of time, and I’m grateful for the way he handled things.”

The pair meet again in the Premier League, with Tarkowski now an England international and Smith having taken his boyhood club back to the top flight.

Tarkowski is happy to see him doing well: “Yeah, I’m really pleased for him.

“For him to be in the Premier League shows how good a manager he is.

“He went to Brentford and did really well, and it’s great to see him at his home town club and getting Villa to progress the way they are. Fair play to him, and I’m sure he’ll continue doing that.”

Villa have tried to take teams on toe to toe in the Premier League and Tarkowski explained: “That’s the way he was when I was there (Brentford). He’s all about giving people a bit of freedom to go and show their ability, and I think you can see that the way they’re playing.”

Another familiar face tomorrow will obviously be Tom Heaton, and Tarkowski admits his influence on and off the pitch is missed at Turf Moor, although the squad are trying to fill the void: “It’s probably going to be a bit strange (him lining up on opposite side).

“Heats was a massive part of our group for so long, and our leader to be honest.

“He was the man that everyone went to if they had a problem or needed to talk about anything.

“It was a bit of a sad day really. It’s nice to see him out there week in, week out and enjoying himself.

“I’m looking forward to seeing him.

“I’m sure he’s looking forward to it, seeing a few of the lads.

“I know he loved his time here but for himself he needed to move on to go and play.

“His character’s probably missed a little bit but we’ve got a lot of big characters in this group anyway.

“It’s not quiet around here. Barnesy’s got to wind up a few different people because he was all over Heats constantly.

“Ben’s filled in as the skipper and he was sort of our skipper anyway when Heats wasn’t in the team because of his shoulder injury.

“Nothing’s changed massively we’re just missing Heats a little bit.”

Heaton has quickly established himself as the Aston Villa number one, having competed with fellow England internationals Nick Pope and Joe Hart at Turf Moor: “It’s not easy here because we’ve got some top quality goalkeepers.

“Competition for places is strong all over the park, and no more so than the keepers.

“So he felt he had to go there to get some minutes under his belt, and maybe for his England career as well. “So I’m sure no-one is going to question why he went there.

“I don’t think the club would have let him go if they had any questions about how to replace him.

“We already had Popey and Harty here, and we’ve since brought Bailey in as well, so we’ve got a strong hand for goalkeepers. So in a sense I don’t think the club were worried about letting him go and having to replace him.”

Something, as Sean Dyche said last season, had to give in terms of his goalkeepers, and Tarkowski added, as regards Heaton and Pope: “They’re both great keepers and they’ve both got their different strengths, and that’s why they’re both in the England squad at the moment.

“I think that’s why it was so hard to keep both of them here – one was going to play and the other wasn’t .So the club made the decision to let Heats go and I think it worked out well for both parties.”