Was Defour Burnley’s finest foreign star? – The Simon Evans Column

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - JANUARY 05: Steven Defour of Burnley is challenged by Mike-Steven Bahre of Barnsley during the FA Cup Third Round match between Burnley and Barnsley at Turf Moor on January 5, 2019 in Burnley, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)
BURNLEY, ENGLAND - JANUARY 05: Steven Defour of Burnley is challenged by Mike-Steven Bahre of Barnsley during the FA Cup Third Round match between Burnley and Barnsley at Turf Moor on January 5, 2019 in Burnley, United Kingdom. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Steven Defour finally returned to action at the weekend, after over eight months out with injury.

But sadly it was in the Belgian league for his new club Antwerp and not in the Claret and Blue shirt that he graced so rarely in his time at Turf Moor.

Defour started 46 Premier League games for Sean Dyche.

But the most revealing statistic is that he managed a full 90 minutes just 15 times in three seasons.

Overall that has to be a very disappointing return on what was then a club record fee of around £8 million.

The bulk of those full games came during the first half of the 2017/18 season when the midfielder finally looked up to speed, showing his quality week-in-week out.

And he played every minute of the last four games before the serious knee injury that wrecked the rest of his time at the club.

The highlight moment of his time at the club came during that spell – his fantastic free-kick in the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford on Boxing Day – a demonstration of his skill and technique against a club that, ironically, he may well have played for, had it not been for another injury earlier in his career when Sir Alex Ferguson had him on his radar.

Defour will primarily be remembered for that moment and for that glorious chip in the FA Cup win over Bristol City in January, 2017.

But he also brought a level of calmness and class to the midfield that allowed the Clarets to play with a little more sophistication when he was on the field.

I have heard it argued recently that despite his many fitness problems, Defour goes down as Burnley’s finest foreign player – a view that has some merit.

Although that honour might be challenged by Icelandic winger Johannn Berg Gudmundsson, who at 28 is now in his prime and should have much more to come.

But the truth is that there is very little competition for such a status – after all, most of Burnley’s foreign signings have been, for one reason or another, flops.

Of the more recent acquisitions, German Rouwen Hennings and Belgian Jelle Vossen made almost no impact at all before quickly leaving. Some of Owen Coyle’s signings were similarly ill-fated – Ecuadorian winger Fernando Guerrero and Peruvian keeper Diego Penny won’t take up too much space in the history of our Premier League campaigns and the most infamous flop of all was Dutchman Remco van der Schaaf, who signed a three year deal, made his debut against Sheffield Wednesday in the opening game of Coyle’s promotion season – a 4-1 defeat – and then was never seen near the first team again.

There have been foreign players who left Burnley without great impact but who showed their quality with creditable careers elsewhere – Dimi Papadopoulos only scored three goals in his time at the Turf but went on to be a part of Greece’s Euro 2004 championship winning team and played in the Champions League with Panathinaikos.

But on the whole, the club’s forays into the international transfer market have rarely delivered players who established themselves at Turf Moor.

Given that track record, it is no surprise that Sean Dyche prefers to buy from closer to home, but hopefully one day we will find a player of Defour’s class without the misfortune that accompanied his time at Turf Moor.