The longest route travelled – An ode to Burnley’s James Tarkowski

Every Premier League season new players rise to prominence and earn global acclaim. These are relatively unknown players who have never previously enjoyed the spotlight and have been fighting through the odds for their their whole career.

Most of these stars fade away sooner rather than later, but some them stick around for quite a long time – the likes of Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy belong in this category. The latest player who could be set to become a new household name is Burnley’s James Tarkowski.

Burnley’s impressive league form under Sean Dyche can certainly be put down to down to the traditional system that ‘the Ginger Mourinho’ has brought in at the club, but it is also in no small part down to the applaudable functioning of the lesser known players.

Tarkowski received a three-match ban for violent conduct during Burnley’s league against Brighton and while it is certainly bad news for the Clarets, Tarkowski was seen working for the club’s media department during the club’s 3-0 loss to Tottenham. While its a sign of how much he loves always being close to the game he loves, its also a sign of how much he likes being involved in the club’s functioning. 

And judging by the performances that Tarkowski has come up with this season, Burnley will certainly struggle to not let his absence trouble them. It was evident from their loss to Spurs, as Harry Kane grabbed his seventh hat-trick of this calendar year.

That ban also denied the defender the chance of facing his the club he supported as a child at Old Trafford, and whilst his presence may have prevented Jesse Lingard’s injury-time equaliser, Burnley’s lofty seventh position is testament to his contribution to the team so far this season.

The Manchester-born defender comes across as an unassuming character, who shows little amount of wavering from stepping upto a challenge, Tarkowski has shown immense character in coming this far. Someone who has hardly been touched by the pampered nature of big clubs of treating young players, life has been hard on Tarkowski, but he has always come back harder. And he has seeked very little attention for all that he does. So much so, that he is very much used to it.

Although, the Englishman has become a vital cog in Dyche’s wheel this season, merely playing in the Premier League would have seemed like a pipe dream to him when he was released by Blackburn Rovers as a teeanger. Having grown up as a Manchester United fan who idolised both David Beckham and Paul Scholes, coming an inch close to replicating them would have been something tough to imagine.

After being released by the Rovers, Tarkowski trotted off to Oldham Athletic in 2009 and aimed at rising through the academy. It was during this time that the defender was on a £200 a week salary and it continued to be so until Tarkowski sealed a move to the south of the country to Brentford, who were battling for promotion to the Championship that season. Despite having made a slow start, he settled in a played a role in getting ‘the Bees’ promoted, helping the club finish second behind Wolves.

These were times when playing in the Championship would have sounded like a big thing for Tarkowski. Instead of being discouraged by the step down, Tarkowski used it as a means to improve and do better. Quite obviously, he has not been the player to have travelled the world in club’s chartered jets or luxury coaches.

Rather, his upbringing and the disappointments that came his way have made him the humble man that he is.

The 25-year-old once opened up to Mike Keegan of the Daily Mail for an interview. He was quoted as saying:

We stayed in some rascal hotels. A dorm at a hostel in Paris was bad. Random people asleep in there. Some £2-a-night places.”

Someone who has figuratively mastered the craft of the traditional, English way of defending, Tarkowski is used to things as run down as what’s mentioned above. And that is something that separates him from a lot of the other players; the superstars of the modern day. Luxuries hardly matter to him. Subsistence does. And his style of play shows that.

Having made an impression at Brentford for a period of two seasons, Tarkowski sealed what seemed like a rather controversial move to Burnley last winter for a £3.6 million fee. The manner of separation and the lead upto it wasn’t liked too much by ‘the Bees’ fans, but Tarkowski had got what he could have barely dreamt of when Blackburn had let him go – playing in the Premier League.

And the task of doing so wasn’t going to be easy. After having played alongside former Manchester United defender Michael Keane, Tarkowski was touted to be the man to replace the outgoing Stockport born man. Before Keane headed off to the greener pastures of Everton, Tarkowski had begun to make a mark in the side, starting the final four games of the previous season and coming on as a substitute against Manchester United at Old Trafford. And rightly so, another dream was being lived and staged at the Theatre of Dreams, except for the fact that few knew about it.

As Keane departed for Everton, the onus fell on Tarkowski to live upto the expectations and replace the now-England international. And the start couldn’t have been better. A man of the match showing against reigning Champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge handed the Clarets an impressive 3-2 win on the opening day of the new season. Since then, Tarkowski has enjoyed a spell that he wouldn’t have dreamt of as a kid. But as things stand, the 25 year-old has been one of the defenders in the Premier League this season.

Not to be taken for granted, Tarkowski’s old-fashioned approach to defending makes him a perfect fit for Dyche’s system, especially with a more sophisticated defensive partner in Ben Mee alongside him.

The Englishman has won 4.4 aerial duels this season, winning 1.7 tackles per game too. His physical attributes allow him to dominate games and while Mee isn’t the biggest defender in the world and nor is Tarkowski, but the manner in which they compliment each other is impressive. They may not be the prettiest or the best, but they are very effective; a vital part of Burnley. An indispensible, rather.

With a manager like Gareth Southgate at the helm of affairs in the English side, Tarkowski would have to keep playing consistently well this season and the next. If he does, an England call-up won’t be too far away.

The Author

Kaustubh Pandey

20, Football Writer, CalcioMercato, ThePeoplesPerson, EPLIndex, VAVEL, InsideFutbol. Aspiring Football Journalist. The game's not about life and death, it's something much more than that.

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