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Burnley's James Tarkowski is no prima donna

by 12/10/2017 18:56:00 0 comments 1 Views
  • James Tarkowski is relishing the chance he has with Burnley in the top flight 
  • Tarkowski's journey to the Premier League has come from graft and hard work 
  • The 24-year-old has been one of the stars across the division so far this season  
  • EXCLUSIVE: The Burnley defender sat down with Sportsmail's Mike Keegan

By Mike Keegan For The Daily Mail

Published: 17:30 EDT, 12 October 2017 | Updated: 18:56 EDT, 12 October 2017

Not many players will spend their summer interrailing around Europe, staying in down-at-heel hotels and operating on a budget. But then again, not many footballers are like James Tarkowski.

'We stayed in some rascal hotels,' recalls the Burnley defender. 'A dorm at a hostel in Paris was bad. Random people asleep in there. Some £2-a-night places.'

Slumming it is something the 24-year-old, one of the stars of the Lancashire side's stunning start to the season, is used to.

Burnley's James Tarkowski has worked his way up and is now impressing on a weekly basis
Burnley's James Tarkowski has worked his way up and is now impressing on a weekly basis

Burnley's James Tarkowski has worked his way up and is now impressing on a weekly basis

Tarkowski won praise for reintroducing the art of old-fashioned defending
Tarkowski won praise for reintroducing the art of old-fashioned defending

Tarkowski won praise for reintroducing the art of old-fashioned defending

This is not the story of a pampered academy product. Released by Blackburn as a teenager, Tarkowski finally got his chance at Oldham, where he was on £200 a week.

On a rainy afternoon at Burnley's new £11million training complex, it all seems a long time ago.

Before the international break, Tarkowski won praise for reintroducing the art of old-fashioned English defending.

In the win against Crystal Palace, which ended Frank de Boer's short spell in charge there, he broke his own clearance record, set in Burnley's shock opening-day win at Chelsea.

At Everton last time out, he was man of the match. There has been talk of an international call-up (more of that later) but for the grounded Manchester lad the reasons for his and Burnley's rise are straightforward.

The central defender goes up for a header with former Burnley centre half Michael Keane
The central defender goes up for a header with former Burnley centre half Michael Keane

The central defender goes up for a header with former Burnley centre half Michael Keane

'Hard work,' he says. 'The manager deserves a lot of credit. He brought some great players but they are all great personalities. Down-to-earth, hard-working, willing to listen and follow instructions. It's about doing the dirty things consistently. Playing nice football only gets you so far.

'We are willing to do the horrible side. The blocks, the tackles, the running. It's easy to say, but you have to do it as a team. The gaffer is big on it. Be mentally right, be physically right.'

That mentality fits with Tarkowski, whose path to the Premier League has not been straightforward. At the age of 14 he was let go by Blackburn, at his own request. 'It wasn't fair on my dad, an electrical engineer working all day and then taking me to Blackburn and not getting home until 9pm,' he explains.

'I knew being released was coming so I got him to call them and tell them I'd leave. To be fair, if I was them I'd have released me. I was a big lad but I was soft.'

He has had experience of the lower leagues (pictured here playing for Oldham in the FA Cup)
He has had experience of the lower leagues (pictured here playing for Oldham in the FA Cup)

He has had experience of the lower leagues (pictured here playing for Oldham in the FA Cup)

A stint playing 'men's football' with Maine Road, in the North West Counties League, helped toughen Tarkowski up. 'I was up against solid 30-year-olds,' he recalls. 'It was a great learning experience.'

Tarkowski went back to Oldham, where his education continued. 'I was on £200 a week,' he says, 'playing Tuesday afternoon reserve matches at Stalybridge Celtic and Macclesfield. I loved every minute of it.'

Even when he made the first team, it was a million miles from where he is now, where nutritionists plan his meals. 'There was no budget,' he recalls. 'We used to go to the shop for our food at lunchtime.

'Here it's all prepared and you know what you can and can't do. I'm a big lad and every pound counts, so I can't touch bread. At Oldham there was a sandwich shop at the back of a newsagent's. We'd get jacket potatoes, sandwiches. Sometimes you'd bring a packed lunch.'

Tarkowski made the breakthrough and in 2014 Brentford swooped — although he ended up in the capital sooner than he thought. 'They were going to loan me back to Oldham for six months,' he explains. 'But after a couple of days' training the (then Oldham) manager, Lee Johnson, called me in and told me they wanted me straight away. That afternoon I packed a bag and went to London.'

Tarkowski thrived in his new surroundings. 'I learned a lot under Mark Warburton and I loved living down there. I had an apartment in Kew and it was the first time I'd been away from home, making my own food and looking after myself.'

Tarkowski says he learned a lot while playing Championship football with Brentford
Tarkowski says he learned a lot while playing Championship football with Brentford

Tarkowski says he learned a lot while playing Championship football with Brentford

The Bees won promotion to the Championship but then family matters intervened. Tarkowski is incredibly close to his parents, dad John and mum Janice, as well as older sister Joanne. And when Janice was diagnosed with an incurable illness, he returned to the north, refusing to play in a match against Burnley in order to push a move through.

'I wish it hadn't ended the way it did,' he says. 'I had two great years but it was the right thing to do. They said they'd help me and I didn't think they were doing that. It wasn't just football, it was my life. There was no financial incentive. I had to do what I did to make it happen.' Following his February 2016 switch to Turf Moor, Tarkowski is now in Worsley, a 15-minute drive from his parents.

'My mum's condition is never going to get better,' he adds. 'It's about dealing with what she's got. We do what we can. She's off work full-time, so I try to see as much of her as I can. I'm much happier and I think she is.'

Burnley manager Sean Dyche has been impressed with Tarkowski's displays this season
Burnley manager Sean Dyche has been impressed with Tarkowski's displays this season

Burnley manager Sean Dyche has been impressed with Tarkowski's displays this season

Like the rest of his career, he has had to graft to get where he wants to be. Long periods last season, with Michael Keane winning rave reviews, were spent on the bench. But when Keane moved to Everton for £30m, Tarkowski seized his chance.

His form has led to talk of an international call-up. But he may end up having a choice to make thanks to a relative who also triumphed against adversity.

'I don't think I am at that stage of my career yet,' he says. 'If I did get there, I'd have two paths. My grandfather was from Poland. His stepfather was a police officer who was executed when the war started. He was deported to Russia before he joined the Polish Free Army as a tank driver. When the war ended he moved to England.'

Turf Moor is another reminder of Burnley's roots and is regarded as an old-fashioned ground
Turf Moor is another reminder of Burnley's roots and is regarded as an old-fashioned ground

Turf Moor is another reminder of Burnley's roots and is regarded as an old-fashioned ground

Tarkowski sees himself as English but is proud of his roots and has been to Poland twice, on the second occasion visiting Auschwitz.

'It was one of the strangest experiences of my life,' he recalls. 'It's hard to take in what happened there. When you see the glasses and the hair, the scale is so hard to take in. I'm not a very serious person, so I thought I'd need to make sure I was in serious mode, but as soon as you walk in the mood changes immediately.'

For now, he is concentrating on extending Burnley's surprise start and continuing to learn under Dyche — although there is one date in this Manchester United fan's diary.

'Boxing Day is United away,' he says. 'Day after Christmas dinner — perfect.'  

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