Lyle Foster is Burnley’s Premier League project player – Kompany’s faith is paying off

There were two men in the race but there was only ever going to be one winner.

Primed and ready to spring into action was Lyle Foster. Luton centre-back Tom Lockyer was nothing more than an obstacle to move out of the way to get to the prize.

As Sander Berge released his pass, Foster was onto it like a flash. He brushed Lockyer aside, took control of the ball and bore down on goal.

Fire turned to ice. Coolly, he stroked the ball past Thomas Kaminski for his third goal of the campaign and Burnley’s first in their 2-1 victory over Luton.

Foster was back – in the team, among the goals and, crucially, offering Burnley a focal point in attack.

Lyle Foster’s goal at Luton underlined his importance to the team (Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

Rewind to shortly after Foster arrived at Turf Moor for £8million. In his initial appearances there were question marks. His first touch was inconsistent, slowing attacks, and his link-up play was hit and miss. In the ‘Mission to Burnley’ documentary series, Kompany was asked by one of the board members to explain why Foster was not featuring regularly given his price. The simple answer was he needed time.

Burnley fans back then would hardly have believed that Foster would now be bordering on indispensable. Yet to understand his significance, just remember what happened when he was suspended for the league matches against Manchester United and Newcastle United. Zeki Amdouni took his spot in the No 9 role and struggled to be a consistent focal point.

Within the opening five minutes at Kenilworth Road, Foster set the tone and tempo. He won his first flick on, reacted quickest to a resultant second ball and opened the game up with a calm pass to Josh Brownhill. It was time to play the game on his terms.

Plenty of hard work has gone in behind the scenes to get to this point, but it has not all been tactics and training. Beneath the surface there was something bigger than a Luton Town defender to battle.

Foster arrived at Turf Moor still fighting depression and anxiety which he began suffering following his move to Belgian side Westerlo. He has spoken bravely about his loneliness and the lack of enjoyment and excitement he felt in his life. He has admitted he contemplated taking his own life.

Help from his family and Westerlo was critical and Burnley, together with manager Vincent Kompany and his assistant Craig Bellamy (who has been open about his own mental health battles) have offered valuable support.

Foster is religious and his faith has been key to him speaking out and seeking help. Before pre-match warm-ups, he kneels down near the tunnel with his arms outstretched and prays. There is another when he walks out for kick-off.

As he has spent more time in Manchester, the South African international has settled. He was enjoying training and playing, which had previously felt like a chore. He was welcomed into the dressing room and has come out of his shell more as time has passed by.

When he arrived in January, Kompany explained it would take time to learn his system. The demands he places on a striker are high. They must do more than score goals: they have to learn to make angles to receive the ball, link play and help in different phases, including pressing.

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Lyle Foster is expected to link play, not just score goals (Warren Little/Getty Images)

Internally, there was no pressure to process everything quickly. His attitude pleased Kompany, who made it clear he wanted to work with Foster for a full pre-season to make key steps ahead of the Premier League season.

Foster has his own team of fellow players and fitness coaches and when back home in South Africa he got into the best shape possible to make a fast start.

He chose not to join up with the South African squad for the post-season international fixtures as they had already secured qualification for the African Cup of Nations. Instead he travelled with Burnley to their ‘pre’ pre-season training camp in June.

He had only netted once in the Championship so Bellamy took him under his wing. In meticulous detail, the 44-year-old went through clips, analysing and focusing on improving Foster’s movement and breaking into space, alongside link-up play.



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The work was paying off as he looked increasingly sharp and physically ready for the top flight. His style should fit the Premier League given Burnley would usually have less of the ball than in the Championship. That would open up transition opportunities – exactly like the goal he scored at Luton.

Foster spoke to compatriot and Manchester United first team coach Benni McCarthy over the summer. The former striker offered him advice about the Premier League and what to expect. His door is always open if Foster wants advice from someone he has called a “cheat code”.

Against Luton we saw it all. He wanted a physical battle with the opposition defenders. He used his body to establish position when controlling long balls. He was one step ahead, consistently sharper than those around him. There was neat interplay, with Foster dropping deep or stretching the game. He displayed a calmness when everything around him was frenetic, and his touch map underlines his industry as he covered vast swathes of Kenilworth Road.

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His evening ended prematurely due to cramp, a testament to the amount of work he got through. Even after treatment he was determined to soldier on. Eventually he admitted defeat.

But this was another impressive all-round performance. His doubters are being silenced with every performance.

(Top photo: Warren Little/Getty Images)

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