Midfielder Steven Defour is “flourishing” in the Premier League after a tough start to life with Burnley.
And boss Sean Dyche feels he is profiting from the hard yards he put in in pre-season.
The Belgium international, while his technical quality was apparent, struggled to adapt to the physicality of the English top flight.
He failed to complete 90 minutes last season, and didn’t start a game after January 31st, but, after a summer of speculation, no suitable offers were on the table for the former Porto man, who returned to the Barnfield Training Centre ahead of the new campaign determined to seize his opportunity in the Premier League.
He has started every league game this season, and Dyche said: “I think he’s enjoying his football. It’s interesting to see last season people were wondering why I wasn’t playing him, why he wasn’t playing more.
“But it’s my job to know the players and to know what to do with them and he now knows that. At the time he was probably saying ‘why am I not playing more?’.
“It was a learning process for him, even at his age and with his experience, because the Premier League is a different animal to what he’s used to. A lot higher tempo, a lot more physically demanding, particularly in a side that doesn’t always have the ball.
“I think he’s now learnt when to find the moments that count whilst doing the team work he has to do.
“He’s accepted it and is relishing it. I think he’s enjoying playing in a team that everyone is willing to do his bit, and he can still provide the moments of quality when needed like he did.”
One such moment of quality was the free kick which put the Clarets 2-0 up at one-time suitors Manchester United on Boxing Day, becoming the first player to beat David De Gea from outside the area this season: “Steven’s was a fantastic free-kick. Technical quality of the highest level. You’ve got to remember he also beat a goalkeeper, who’s absolutely top drawer.
“It was a fantastic free-kick and it was certainly recognised by a stadium of people.”
Defour himself has spoken about the lightbulb moment in pre-season, the notorious gaffer’s day, when the players go through real physical exertion.
The former Standard Liege and Anderlecht man cane through unscathed and realised he could ally the physical statistics to his ability.
Dyche admitted: “I even felt in pre-season he was a little bit confused by it all. The reason why I did that was to reinforce to him ‘look you have go through an incredibly difficult day, and when you look at the stats you have produced at the highest level, the Premier League 95 minutes, that is the highest level you are every going to need.
“You aren’t going to go beyond those stats. So therefore you can deliver it’. And not only did he deliver it, you know the thing about the human spirit and the body. You know you don’t fall on the floor. You know if I said get up and do another they would have done it. It’s only the marathons when their legs have gone and they do a wobble on the floor, that’s when they have gone. Because that is scientifically proven you cannot store enough energy to run a marathon.
“So here it is as important as everything else. Trust me, we didn’t do a marathon’s work. The point is you can go again, you will go again, and you know for a fact that you can do this.
“It was just about walking away and going ‘actually I don’t feel too bad’. You have shower, you have lunch, your day continues. Then you go ‘actually I don’t know feel too bad’.
“You come in the next day and think ‘I feel alright’. You forget you are already a professional athlete/footballer. You are already here, and going to there.
“It’s not like me putting you lot through it and your body just cannot take it. If you are going from there to there, that is going to hurt you. When you are talking about these guys, they can manage that. So here (the body) links with this (the brain) then you are on to something. That’s as simplistic as it can be. Not with every player, but with him it was a big thing.”
So was it about changing Defour’s mindset?: “I don’t think it’s change it. It’s reinforce it.
“Using Steven as a example, you can’t play 46 games for your country in the elite period of their history of players and not know you are capable.
“So I’m not telling him anything he doesn’t know. I am reinforcing the fact how do we move you up to there physically, you will flourish because you can play.
“You know the game, you understand the game, and you can play. There’s no two ways about it.
“Now I think the freedom that comes with that he can get round the pitch more easily, he is more comfortable, sharper, more energetic and he handle back-to-back games.
“That brings clarity of thought to play more freely and in theory you are up an running. I only nearly took him off against Manchester United because they are huge a side physically and we thought they put the ball in the box. It’s only tactical.”