When a manager leaves a football club he finds out quickly who his friends are. When the end arrived for Sean Dyche at Burnley after nine and a half years the messages of support came from near and far. One, from a former player now plying his trade in Glasgow, still sticks in the mind.
‘Scotty Arfield sent me a nice message when I came out of Burnley,’ he tells Sportsmail.
‘Everybody is busy and getting on with their own lives, but you appreciate the little touches like that.
Rangers midfielder Scott Arfield has been in sensational form in the Scottish Premiership
Former Burnley boss Sean Dyche claims Arfield’s success is down to his ‘thirst and desire’
‘It’s more of a distant thing with old players these days, but I keep in touch enough to know how things are going in their careers. I keep an eye on them.’
His first close look at Arfield came in the summer of 2013. A free agent after three years at Huddersfield the midfielder was on the look-out for a new club.
He became one of Dyche’s first – and best value-for-money – permanent signings. A working relationship spanning five years and two promotions to the English Premier League would follow.
‘Scotty had come through a bit of an up and down time at Huddersfield.
‘I said to him, ‘look, I’m not going to mess you around, but I do need to see a bit more of you.’
The 33-year-old spent five seasons at Turf Moor before moving to Scotland in 2018
Dyche claims that Arfield was one of few players to wish him well after his Burnley departure
‘We knew Brian Rice, who was a scout in Scotland at the time, and he spoke very highly of him. Brian said to me, “look, in your environment he would do well.”
‘To be honest Scott came in and he was like a breath of fresh air. He came in loving it, working hard, as fit as you like. We just thought, ‘yeah, he’ll do for us…’
There has never been anything flash or flamboyant about Arfield’s contribution to the cause beyond his impact on the pitch. Since 2018, the ex Canada international has made 201 appearances for Rangers, scoring 38 goals and providing 19 assists from midfield.
Where overseas players enjoy a long honeymoon period the former Falkirk player never really needed one. Leaving everything on the pitch he immersed himself in the community at Burnley and became a fans’ favourite – a pattern which continued when he joined Rangers.
‘Scotty probably isn’t one of those players who is sexy in the eyes of fans,’ Dyche acknowledges. ‘But we certainly appreciated what he brought to the team.
The midfielder won the hearts of Burnley fans with his tireless performances in the middle
‘He suited the environment, he fitted the work ethic, he had a real thirst and desire where you felt like he had left everything out there.
‘He had more to offer and he certainly offered it for us, that’s for sure.
‘The amount of football he played over the years he was at Burnley was incredible really.
‘He was very rarely injured and always available. He must be – he should be – delighted with his career.’
It’s a career with plenty of fuel in the tank yet. At the age of 33 a reminder of his importance to the Rangers cause came before the international break when, after a run of three games without a win, Giovanni van Bronckhorst restored Arfield and veteran keeper Allan McGregor to the team for the Champions League defeat to Napoli.
Arfield player a major role in the Rangers side that reached the Europa League final last year
Despite a 3-0 defeat the performance was enough to remain in the team for a much-needed win over Dundee United. Van Bronckhorst’s decision to go back to the tried and tested was supported by facts and figures.
With four goals and one assist during his 462 minutes on the pitch this season, Arfield averages a goal or an assist every 92 minutes of football. New signing Tom Lawrence is the only player who comes close to that return with a goal or an assist every 122 minutes. For Rabbi Matondo and Malik Tillman the figure slide to 226 and 236 minutes respectively.
‘I don’t know what Giovanni’s view would be on this,’ adds Dyche. ‘I can’t really comment on what’s going on at Rangers. But any manager is always searching for the recipe that works.
The veteran is outperforming team-mates, such as Rabbi Matondo (above), despite his age
‘Certainly for myself I was never worried whether a player was young or old. All I worried about was whether they could do a job? Did they have the appetite? Did they have the desire to affect what’s going on?
‘And in my experience Scotty has always been a player who keeps himself right. When he was in the team he was always looking after himself and ready to go. I doubt very much that he has ever changed in that regard.’
When Rangers came calling in the summer of 2018, Dyche knew the game was up.
Arfield left Turf Moor under freedom of contract with no hard feelings. With a league winners’ medal, a Scottish Cup triumph and an appearance in a Europa League final the arrangement has worked well for both sides. The midfielder has a finely tuned understanding of what it takes to win games at Rangers.
‘I haven’t experienced what it’s like at the Old Firm,’ Dyche admits.
Dyche insists there are no hard feelings surrounding the midfielder’s 2018 move to Rangers
‘But obviously I know so many people who have played in that environment.
‘Down the years I’ve met guys who have played for both of the clubs and you ask them about it.
‘Unless you’ve been there you can never have a real understanding of what it’s like, but what I do know is that there is a really intense demand up there for success at both Rangers and Celtic.
‘And every manager is under pressure now to get results. I know lower league managers in the English game now who are constantly under pressure to play the right way and get results.
‘That’s just the demands of the job, but it’s enhanced in Glasgow because of the demands of the city and the intense rivalry. I’m told that all the time.
Rangers were on the end of a 4-0 drubbing when they faced rivals Celtic last month
‘Listen, you don’t do management unless you’re ready for what comes with it. Everybody has to cope with the demands and it’s not just football, it’s modern life.’
After nine and a half years the demands of life at Burnley eventually became too much last April.
Leaving after two promotions, a European campaign and memorable wins over the big six clubs Dyche fills his time now with family commitments and talks to Sportsmail before going off to record podcast.
If – when – he returns to management he will fill the team with players prepared to go the extra mile for the cause. Players not unlike Scott Arfield.
The Scot boasts an impressive record of 38 goals in 201 midfield appearances for Rangers
‘I get asked a lot, “do you like players with a good attitude?” And I’ll say, “who doesn’t like players with a good attitude?”
‘Scotty certainly did have. But what shone through for me over time was his work ethic and his belief in what he did for the team.
‘Certain fan bases take to certain types of player. And I certainly think Scott commanded a lot of respect during his time at Burnley, while I know he has built it up during his time at Rangers.
‘People appreciate what he does. He’s energetic, he puts in the work, he has quality and eventually think fans just say, ‘you know what? He’ll do for me….’