INTERVIEW: Vokes on Burnley, Wales and Bale

Alam Khan - Reporter 11:30 10/08/2016
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Vokes made his mark in France during the Euros.

As his team-mates focused on a glamorous opening-day home encounter with Chelsea in August, 2014, it was the fifth month of an expected nine on the sidelines for the big striker.

Having scored 20 goals to put the Clarets on course for promotion, Vokes ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in a showdown with Leicester City earlier that March.

He missed the run-in to the season and then the first six months of Burnley’s short-lived  return to the top flight – after a 33-year  absence – as Sean Dyche’s side were relegated.

“You see those sorts of injuries and know they are tough to come back from,” he recalls on the pain of the past. “It’s one of those where you put the work in off the field, in the gym and you know it’s a nine-month injury and just try to get back to where you were.

“It was tough being out. Chelsea at home on the first day of the Premier League season was such a big occasion and one you wanted to be part of, especially after promotion. It was tough not to be. So it makes it even more special to be part of the first game this time.”

Swansea await at Turf Moor on Saturday, and Vokes will go into it buoyant, on the back of a memorable period in a career that saw him once taste relegation to League Two with first club Bournemouth. Another 15 goals helped haul Burnley back into the Premier League in May before he was part of the wondrous Wales side that defied the odds to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2016. Vokes headed the decisive third goal against Belgium – his seventh international strike – to seal a last-four meeting with Portugal, which they lost 2-0.

“It’s been a great year,” he tells Sport360°. “Winning the Championship with Burnley after relegation was a massive achievement first. It’s really tough, one of the toughest leagues out there, especially when you see the amount of quality teams coming down from the Premier League.

“We have had two promotions in three years and it’s never easy to get the momentum to bounce back after you have been relegated.

“Then going off to the Euros was a massive summer – and a really enjoyable one.”

Sam Vokes History

  • Burnley (2012-current)
  • Wolves (2008-2012)
  • Bournemouth (2006-2008)
  • Loan spells at: Leeds United, Bristol City, Sheffield Utd, Norwich, Burnley and Brighton.

Casting his mind back to the Welsh heroics in France, Vokes hopes Burnley can draw inspiration from Chris Coleman’s side, as well as last season’s unlikely champions Leicester.

“They’ve given us all hope, of course,” says the frontman. “Leicester were fantastic. They got promoted with us the season before and have gone on to do amazing. Stories like that push you on and make you want to do well.

“It’s the same with Wales and it’s a very similar group of players and people to what we have at Burnley.

“It’s important when you have got that underdog mentality, as Wales had in the  Euros, you have the team spirit to drive you through. I think both sets of teams have got that and that’s where the success has come from. With Wales, I think the boys were going into every game with no fear. We were going into something new and just enjoying the ride. Every stage we got to, the performances were driving us on to the next game.

“It was evident for everyone, that team spirit in the Welsh camp over the summer, and we have definitely got that at Burnley. That can only drive us on to do well this year. Our aim is to stay up and build on that.”

Survival may be the target for the Clarets, who have spent just £3 million (Dh14.4m) on new signings compared to the vast amounts of their rivals, but Vokes believes they will be better for their previous Premier League experience. Despite going down, they did beat Manchester City and notably drew with Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham.

“It motivates me even more when you get written off,” he says. “We have learned a lot from last time and it’s a similar squad, a core group with a lot of lads who have stayed on.

“It is crazy some of the money being spent, but that’s the nature of the Premier League these days, everyone is trying to outdo each other with signings.

“We just need to focus on ourselves. We work hard for each other as a group and when you step out it’s just 11 players isn’t it?

“It was the same last time. We were the underdogs in a lot of those games and picked up some massive results. We took four points from Man City so you have to use the underdog status to your advantage. We need to get off to a good start and make the most of our home games. Turf Moor is a small tight ground and I think we can make it a fortress.”

Sam-Vokes

Burnley boss Sean Dyche will also need Vokes and Andre Gray to fire like they did last season, when they shared 38 league goals.

Their partnership has evoked memories of the impressive link-up between Vokes and Danny Ings, now at Liverpool.

And the 26-year-old adds: “Two great partnerships I’ve had, I’ve been lucky. You see the amount of goals they score and it makes a massive difference.  They are two completely different players though. Ingsy will come deeper looking for the ball and is great in that No.10 position. Andre has got that pace to go in behind defences and threaten the goal. Both of them for me are brilliant to work off.

“Andre’s got great confidence going into this season and if he is scoring goals I’m sure people will take notice.”

Vokes is also hoping to serve notice of his own talent too, having endured past frustration at this level, making just 11 substitute appearances in three top-flight seasons with Wolves before injury and relegation soured the campaign with Burnley.

Playing alongside Gareth Bale for Wales will also help him fulfil his ambitions as he adds: “You have to try to learn and improve when you are playing with these players.

“It’s great to play with them, especially as a No9, when you have Gareth and also Aaron Ramsey behind, who create so much for the strikers. It really helps my game.

“Gareth’s been fantastic. You see he’s just world class and can turn a game with one  attack. He had his chance on the world stage at the Euros and took it.

“It’s exciting times going into a new Premier League season and exciting times with Wales too with 2018 World Cup qualifying. Our target now is to get to Russia and prove we can do it at that level too. I’m hoping it will be a golden era and I want to be part of that.”

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