This time last year, Scott Arfield had played his last game for Huddersfield Town. Just weeks later he was released as a free agent. Now the 25-year-old is on the brink of the Premier League. Even the most clichéd of long years in football rarely feel this long.
Burnley need just two points from their remaining three games to secure a place in next season’s top flight, and can clinch that requirement against Wigan tonight. Arfield has been the kingpin in the Clarets’ promotion charge.
Indeed, so impressive has the former Falkirk midfielder been this season many Burnley fans have him down as the club’s outstanding player of the year. But the Premier League seemed a long way off less than 12 months ago. While most teams were starting their pre-season schedule, Arfield was without a club. As the brightest talent in a promising Falkirk side, Arfield had no shortage of suitors as he looked to make the crucial next step in his fledgling career towards the end of the 2009/10 season. Hearts. Hibs and Southampton were all linked with the midfielder, but it was Lee Clark, who sold the Huddersfield Town project to Arfield.
“There were a few clubs that were interested,” explains Arfield, who drew a £400,000 transfer fee, “but Huddersfield were the ones who wanted to get it done and dusted. I could have waited and seen what else came along but with relegation at Falkirk, I think I needed to move at that point of my career.”
Things actually started out well for Arfield. Huddersfield won promotion to the Championship in his second season at the club, with the Livingston-born player a key first-team figure.
However, things started to unravel for Arfield even before promotion had been sealed. Despite setting a football league unbeaten record just weeks before, Clark was sacked with Huddersfield just four points off the automatic promotion places. Successors Simon Grayson and Mark Lillis weren’t as keen on Arfield, and the midfielder drifted farther and farther from the starting eleven. Yet Arfield insists nobody other than himself was to blame for his decline, admitting that the opportunity at Huddersfield somewhat passed him by. “I would say I never got my chances, but that’s not true,” he sighs. “I just never really took them when I got them. I could have done much better.”
Following his release from Huddersfield Arfield’s options appeared limited. A return to Scotland was rumoured, with Rangers said to be interested, while a number of managers from the English lower leagues sounded out Arfield. But Arfield had his sights set on the Championship. “Even after everything, I still felt I was good enough to play there,” he adds. “My first choice was to stay in England. I was settled down here, I just needed to find the right club.”
Despite no guarantee of a contract, Arfield joined Burnley on their pre- season tour of Ireland. “I don’t think there was anything on the table when I first went in,” he says. “It was just to keep fit, but I did well and bit their hand off when I was offered a deal.”
Now Arfield says he’s enjoying his football like never before, and it’s showing on the pitch. “Sometimes a club just doesn’t fit you,” he elaborates. “You can’t put your finger on it, but sometimes it takes for you to leave a club to kick on again.
“I think at Burnley it’s more of a mentality thing. It’s a strong club, with great tradition and a great group of players. The Premier League would suit the club, but at the moment there’s genuinely no talk of it in the dressing room. It’s almost as if we’re scared to tempt fate.”
Reports ahead of Scotland’s friendly against Poland last month speculated that Arfield was set for a call-up to Gordon Strachan’s squad for the first time. Yet the phone call never came. “It’s always been an ambition of mine, yeah,” he says, speaking about his own international prospects. “But the midfield is the strongest bit of the squad, so it’s very difficult to break in there.”
Fellow Championship players like Ikechi Anya and Chris Burke have been involved in the national set-up, while Arfield has thus far been ignored. Considering how the 25-year-old has largely outshone both those players this season, surely a call-up is overdue?
“Nah, I don’t think so,” Arfield insists, with genuine humility. “These players are proven at international level, and I’m not.”