Burnley’s excellent form without Charlie Austin poses a quandary for the board, writes Jamie Smith.
A few months ago, selling Charlie Austin would have been unthinkable. He scored the vast majority of our goals, was head and shoulders our best player and even led the goalscoring charts in the whole of Europe at one point.
But with Austin missing, the rest of the squad has stepped up under Sean Dyche and has proven that we are no longer a one-man team. Three straight wins with no goals conceded in 2013 have built a platform we can capitalise on at the weekend at home to struggling Birmingham City.
The Club has repeatedly stressed that Austin is not for sale and we don’t need to cash in – but things can change quickly at the end of the transfer window and we’ve heard that before only for a player to leave.
Celtic are the latest to be linked with a bid for the striker, but this is believed to be dependent on Gary Hooper moving to the Premier League. Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle United are among the English clubs reported to have scouted the former Swindon Town man.
Of course, the ideal scenario would be that Austin comes back from injury and provides the extra push to take us to promotion, which we celebrate by handing him a fat new long-term contract. All Burnley fans would love to see Austin banging in the goals in the Premier League in claret and blue next season.
But although we’re only four points from the top six, perhaps we need to be realistic. Promotion with the current squad remains a long shot and a little investment in a couple of crucial areas could carry us into the play-offs and even beyond.
There is a precedent here. Owen Coyle flogged Kyle Lafferty to Rangers for about £3 million and the money raised through the sale of the Northern Irishman went towards deals for Martin Paterson and Chris Eagles. We didn’t miss Lafferty a huge deal, while Eagles and Paterson both played starring roles in our subsequent promotion.
But that was during the summer, when the manager had more time to identify replacements, while Lafferty wasn’t nearly as important to Burnley as Austin is. Though our last seven goals have come from different sources - Austin, Duff, Treacy, Wallace, Stanislas, Vokes and Ings – Austin is still our top scorer this season by miles. Lafferty only scored ten goals for Burnley, while Austin already has 40 for us in all competitions.
The last Burnley striker to hit the net as regularly as Austin was Andy Payton and in an interview he has suggested the Clarets could find it hard to hang on to the forward.
“I think Burnley will probably be tested with an offer before the end of January and then it will be very interesting to see what would happen,” said the Padiham Predator.
“As a Burnley fan, I hope he stays. We’re doing really well at the moment and you never know, we could get into the play-offs and you’ve seen a lot that the team that finishes sixth can go up.”
Payton added: “If Celtic did come in with an offer and Charlie said he wanted to go, it would be very interesting to see what Burnley would do. Ideally you’d get Charlie signed up to a five-year contract now, but it’s whether the club can do that with the finances and I can’t imagine him going into the last year of his contract.
“If you get told that maybe another club could double or treble your wages, it’s hard for players not to be tempted. I am a Burnley fan and went to school in the area, but Charlie isn’t from Burnley so it’s not quite the same.”
Imagine if Hooper goes to Norwich City for £7 million and Celtic offer the same amount for Austin. We could bring in three £1 million players for that money and cover their wages for three years. Imagine the improvements we could make to the side with that kind of money.
Yes, we would have to replace Austin and that wouldn’t come cheap, but Burnley aren’t in the habit of turning down that kind of money for players. We’ve sold well. Andy Gray, Danny Fox, Chris Eagles, Tyrone Mears, Richard Chaplow, Jay Rodriguez and Lafferty – they’ve all gone for big money in recent years and none of them have proven themselves at a higher level.
It wouldn’t necessarily be a disaster if Austin was sold – we’ve shown in recent weeks we can win without him – though it would be vital to bring in players before the end of the transfer window.
It’s often said that we’d get a better price for Austin in the summer, but I’m not sure that’s the case. The transfer fees doled out for über-flops Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll in recent years shows how teams can get carried away in January.
We also have to consider the possibility that Austin cannot replicate his early season form between now and May, or worse that a serious injury keeps him out for the rest of the campaign. There is no guarantee his value will hold until the summer, especially as our position would then be weakened as we face him going into the last year of his contract and leaving for free in 2014. Unless we get promoted this season, we absolutely have to sell Austin in the summer.
A lot depends on Charlie himself. If he wants to stay – and there are indications he is happy and settled at the Club – then that’s great. But if he thinks the grass is greener elsewhere, we have a decision to make. I don’t want us to sell Austin, even for £10 million. But with some clever moves in the market, the sale could strengthen us for the run-in.
It could be a pivotal week for the Club.
Is selling Austin unthinkable, or should we consider cashing in? Comment below.