Exclusive: Sean Dyche on time away from football, the Yo-Yo Test and bobble hats ahead of Everton managerial bow against Arsenal

The former Burnley boss was known for helping the Clarets punch above their weight in the Premier League, but faces one of his toughest challenges yet trying to turn the tide at Goodison Park.

By Callum Davis Published: 9 February 2023 - 1.21pm
Sean Dyche Everton

After nine-and-a-half years in charge at Burnley, Sean Dyche made the most of his time away from the relentless environment of elite sport. 

Heading into 2022, he was comfortably the longest-serving manager working in the Premier League, and developed a reputation for producing teams that exceeded expectations and stayed in the top flight when many expected them to fall through the trap door. 

However, Dyche's time at Turf Moor eventually came to an end in April 2022, with the Clarets duly dropping into the Championship the following month. 

After receiving the unfortunate news that his services were no longer required, how did Dyche switch off - and when did he start watching football again?

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"Probably 50% of the time was a break," he explained. "I took advice from some wiser and older managers than me and they said: 'Get away from it - do all those things that you'd parked in your life for years.' Usually social things, family things, getting away, gigs, just physically seeing people, not really zooming in on the football.

"And then, probably three or four weeks before the World Cup, [I] started watching games more analytically again.

"On the back of that [was] the World Cup of course, where there were that many games. [I was] not always [watching] whole games – certainly the England games – but parts of games, halves and things like that. 

"[I] had a good Christmas to chill out and spend time with family and friends - the first complete one I've had since I was 16 - so that was interesting and different and enjoyable, and then really got right back into it again after that, so me and my assistant and coaches that I know, we started getting ourselves out and about more to games, when I could of course.

"I've said on record I'm not really keen on popping up when managers are under pressure. I don’t really like that kind of feel, so I had to avoid the Midlands, which was difficult, but I watched games on TV and streams, so I kept up to date, certainly over the last couple of months."

Sean Dyche standing next to the Everton crest during his unveiling as manager

Since his appointment on Monday, things have been hectic. Given Everton's situation - two points and two places adrift of safety - there is a need to get wins on the board quickly, and many Toffees supporters have welcomed Dyche's appointment after feeling that players have often not been putting in the effort required during a dire few months under predecessor Frank Lampard.

However, the 51-year-old sought to underline that he is not the hard taskmaster many perceive him to be from the outside after a photo appeared on Everton's social media channels of him grinning as the players were undergoing the Yo-Yo Test, a gruelling exercise which involves running between markers placed 20m apart at increasing speeds until exhaustion. 

"The first day I did the Yo-Yo Test - it's just one of many tests I've used down the years. I've got lots of data on it so just use it as a marker. It doesn’t mean it's a precise marker, but it gives a good opinion of where the players are at.

"I share that [data] with them. I did explain to them there will be hard work involved, that's for sure, and they've been really good. They've bought into that.

"[We've had] a question and answer [session] to get some good feedback from them on where they think it's at. A view of after the window – there's been a lot of noise about signing players – of what we are.

"So a lot of work off the training pitch – mixed with obviously the Yo-Yo Test – but a lot of work on the training pitch as well.

"Some knowledge about the team and the way that we want it to operate, some reminders, some football work, some fitness work and a little bit of fun along the way as well. It can't be just all work all the time.

"We've crammed a lot in this week and [have] a longer period next week to get more work into them with the game being on a Monday [at Merseyside rivals Liverpool], so at least it allows us another window to get even more into them."

To the next question about the areas Everton need to improve - starting against Arsenal at Goodison Park this Saturday on BT Sport - Dyche gave an extremely direct answer.

"There are many, but the most obvious one is, and forgive me for the simple answer, but putting it in their end and stopping it going in ours. How are we working in both boxes?

"[We've been] doing some work on that, doing some work on the units and on just team play. You've still got to play games, you've still got to be careful with the loading. The harder idea of coming in mid-season is push and pull.

"You've got to push the players hard and with knowledge, with work. I don't mean just fitness: I mean tactical work, understanding, the way you want it done, while pulling back enough to give them enough rest and recuperation time and absorption time, because we've put a lot into them this week.

"They can't remember everything we've put into them. It's a tough balance mid-season."

One thing Dyche has an unwavering stance on though is attire during training, with the example of bobble hats being outlawed drawing particular attention. 

The former centre-back takes us through his though process. 

"I've answered [this] so many times but I don't mind answering it again. People make out that it's a mythical hard line. You can't wear them in a game you know, so anything you can't wear in a game, you can't wear in training.

"It's a very simple, logical rule. You can't wear hats, you can wear tights I suppose. I don't mind bottoms. You can't wear jewellery. You have to wear shinpads by [the] rules of the game. Even a version of them, you still have to wear them.

"You can't wear snoods, so actually it's just a logical decision and I explained that to the players. I said it's not about anything other than being prepared to play and training how we play."

Dominic Calvert-Lewin wearing a hat in Everton training

This current Arsenal team is arguably the strongest Gunners side Dyche will have ever faced, sitting five points clear at the top of the Premier League with a game in hand, but he indicates how their rapid improvement may be an example for Everton to follow.

"From what I remember at the very beginning of last season, there were massive question marks about what they were doing, and they stood by the moulding of the team and turned it around and built through the season, and then they've started this season and been fantastic. We all know that.

"They're a good outfit, but it just goes to show you from pretty awkward beginnings a year, a year and a half ago, when there was massive pressure on the situation, how those players turned it round slowly but surely with their knowledge, with their understanding, with their experience of the Premier League. I don’t know their internal journey, but that seems to be it from the outside and now [they are] a team to possibly be talked about as champions."

While Dyche has generally found the going tough when facing the north Londoners, he has enjoyed some recent successes, including at the Emirates last January in his previous outing against them as Burnley secured a goalless draw.

When asked whether he would look to physically dominate Mikel Arteta's men, Dyche delivered an impassioned defence of the style of play he has implemented down the years. 

"There is nothing wrong with competing. If I'm a fan, I should expect the team to compete. It's not about being physical, non-physical. You should be doing that. You're a professional footballer – you should be competing like your life depends on it.

"That's all I can ask of the players. Not to do with physicality, but to do with that edge that it is to give your lot. There's a body language to it, there's a feel to it and there's a demand to it, so that’s all I can ask."

Everton fans call for Bill Kenwright to resign during their defeat at West Ham last month

How can Dyche win over the Everton faithful, currently disillusioned with the owners and the board following years of poor recruitment that has led to their club staring at their first-ever relegation?

"I hope with honesty, with authenticity, a little bit of humour, because I'm pretty sure the Evertonians like a bit of humour," he replied.

"I've been round this ground a lot and I've been on both ends – giving a bit and taking a bit. I'm pretty passionate about what I do, I'm passionate about my employers, in this case Everton Football Club.

"I want to do whatever I can to safeguard it, but also put my imprint on what I think is important to the club, not just for now, but going forwards.

"But it starts with the team of course, and when we get that side of it corrected and improved, I think the fans will go with that.

"From the fans, all I can ask for is time. Give me a chance to work hard and earn their respect.

"I don't expect it as a given. We've got to earn their respect and earn their support and if I can inspire along the way, then that would be fantastic as well."

Granit Xhaka celebrates Arsenal's 3-2 win over Manchester United last month

And how can the team go about inflicting just a second league defeat this season on Saturday's opponents?

"We've got to work hard, we need to play from a structure. They're top of the league for a reason.

"You want them to have a quiet one, [and] you [to] play very well. The crowd play their part, they get behind us, they help to bring an improved energy and feel to our group, and we hope to deliver.

"You need all those things to fall into place, but the big thing for me is us putting out a good performance. That's the start point."

If Dyche can pull off the highly improbable here - shaking up the title race in the process - then he might just lead the Toffees out of their sticky situation.

Everton vs Arsenal is live on BT Sport 1 and BT Sport Ultimate from 11.30am on Saturday 4 February.