The Burnley fans are reacting to rumours circulating in the national media, suggesting Tom Heaton is set to leave the Clarets for Aston Villa in what could prove to be a £9 million transfer. As expected, the news has not been received well by the Burnley faithful. Hashtags of #JusticeForHeaton and trending related tweets, are testament to that.
Heaton was signed by Sean Dyche in 2013, at a time when some Burnley fans needed persuading that Dyche was the right man for the manager’s job. The signing of Heaton from newly relegated Bristol City, did nothing to appease concerns initially. However the quality of Heaton, his scintillating form over a sustained period and a rebirth of the Clarets under Dyche, which ultimately saw them become a Premier League fixture, helped to silence even the harshest doubters. Dyche and Heaton have both proved integral in Burnley’s transformation.
But is it time for Burnley FC to sell Heaton? We think maybe it is. Don’t smash your screen just yet. Hear us out.
Firstly, Heaton is moving into the last 12 months of his contract. As it stands, he is a player with a sell on value. If a £9 million fee is accurate, one could argue that it is on the low side for an England International with presumably a number of years in the top flight left. His form last season was at times excellent and a return to the side helped stopped a poor run of form for the team. But £9 million is not an insignificant sum for a club of Burnley’s size, despite what some fans may think.
Surely Burnley have to plan for all eventualities. Familiarity breeds contempt. The fans will naturally expect Premier League football season after season. An expectation that only strengthens the longer Dyche works his magic. But the Claret faithful should be under no illusions, Burnley FC under Dyche are over performing. A return to the Championship could be just around the corner. A reality that Aston Villa, Newcastle and Stoke have recently found to their peril. Every season in the Premier League is a financial bonus. Key injuries, a sticky run of form, crucial decisions going against the team – and Burnley could be sucked into a relegation dog fight. One that can hail the start of a lengthy Premier League wilderness – just look at Bolton, Leeds and Sunderland if you need persuading. In conclusion, £9 million should not be scoffed at. There are a raft of Football League clubs, especially in the North West, where a £9 million cash injection would secure their immediate and long term future. Away from the bright lights of the top league, it is a sizeable amount. It is the board’s role to be pessimistic and consider all eventualities. To allow £9 million to filter away, by keeping a player whose contract is whittling down, is not good business sense. To cash in, however unpopular a decision it proved with the fans, is.
Secondly, Heaton has been a fantastic servant to the club. If he signs for Aston Villa it is because he wants too. Maybe he will get a bumper contract, after all Aston Villa are not shy in opening the cheque book, or he wants a final challenge in his career. Realistically, we will never know. But sometimes, you have to look objectively and take out the emotion. Heaton will make decisions based on what is best for him and his family. Unfortunately an affiliation with a club or a devoted fan following, doesn’t pay the bills or set up a player’s financial future. New contracts do. If he wants to move to the Midlands, the club will, we suspect, allow him to move on. He has been a phenomenal servant after all.
Finally, the Clarets have more than adequate back up. Nick Pope has signed a lengthy contract and is seen as the long term choice. An enforced spell in the first team allowed Pope to prove his quality and show he is ready for a regular starting spot. An England call up was a well deserved reward, for the hard working goalkeeper. Granted Pope is suffering from an injury at the moment, but word from Turf Moor is that the injury is short term rather than a longer term issue. The Clarets have other options too. Joe Hart is a seasoned performer. The brunt of often unwarranted criticism, some fans often under estimate the ex-Manchester City regular’s ability, in our opinion. Hart’s early pre-season form has been encouraging. His experience substantial. It has to be the harshest Hart critic, that would argue he is not a ready-made replacement for Heaton or even Pope, if he is absent through injury. A reason perhaps as to why Burnley FC do not try and compete with a lucrative contract offered by Villa or other suitors, ultimately breaking their presumed tight wage budget.
For all those reasons, we feel it may ultimately prove a wise decision from the Burnley Board to move Heaton on.