Sean Dyche insists Tom Heaton has a future at Burnley if he wants one but understands the goalkeeper’s frustration at being left out of the side.
Heaton’s status as Burnley number one, and potentially the same position with England, looked assured until he suffered a serious shoulder injury in September 2017 and saw Nick Pope excel in his place.
With Pope struck down by his own shoulder issue, a minor injury early this season resulted in Heaton missing out to new signing Joe Hart, who has now established himself as the club’s number one.
At 32 and with international ambitions, sitting on the bench is understandably frustrating for Heaton, and he told the Sunday Mirror he would have to keep his options open in January when the transfer window reopens.
Dyche hinted he would not stand in Heaton’s way if he feels he does need to leave, saying: “I thought he spoke very well because he’s a fantastic professional and I expect him to do that, and that’s a big part of why he’s club captain. He’s just telling the truth.
“Me and Tom go back a long way, he was my first signing here, so we’ve certainly got an open dialogue about what goes on. He’s been very, very unfortunate. In due course, whatever needs to be worked out, we will find a way of working it out.
“He knows for as long as he can know that he’s got a future here, it’s just what part of that future is right for him and for us – but mainly for him at this stage.
“Football changes very, very quickly. With keepers it’s more difficult because it can be a longer situation but, as we’ve seen with Tom and then with Popey, it just changes like that. I don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone here, but it just sometimes changes. Nothing’s done at this moment in time.”
Dyche could soon be in the position of having three England stoppers to choose from, with Pope “tentatively” back out on the grass.
Midfielder Steven Defour could make a first Premier League appearance for nine months against Manchester City on Saturday but the game comes too soon for winger Robbie Brady and defenders Ben Gibson and Stephen Ward.
The latter had a minor knee operation this week, and Dyche said: “He’s had a tidy up and a wash-out of his knee so we’ll wait and see but that’s not going to be days, that’s going to be weeks.”
Hart will make his first appearance against City since ending his 12-year association with the club in the summer.
Dyche does not expect the 31-year-old to be affected by the occasion, saying: “He’s very experienced now Joe, he’s played in enough big games of different sorts.
“Obviously it’s a different kind of emotion, a club you’ve got a big history with and a recent history, but I think he’ll just want to get on with it and not overthink it.
“I didn’t bring him here to prove a point to anyone. I don’t want to speak for him but, if he’s got any point to prove, I don’t see why, other than to himself. And that is to continue to show what a top-class goalie he is.”
Defender Ben Mee trod the path from City to Burnley six years ago and the fixtures against his former club still have a significance.
He said of Hart’s return: “I’m sure there’s something there. It’s always good going back to places you’ve played.
“He has been written off I guess in the past but he’s still a top keeper and I’m sure he wants to prove that.”