MICHAEL Duff is well placed to evaluate what has made the difference for Burnley this season.
The Clarets are celebrating staying in the Premier League at the third attempt, having been relegated in their last two campaigns in the top flight, in 2009/10 and 2014/15.
Duff is a veteran of both of those season, when Burnley twice came close to proving the doubters wrong and staying up against the all odds.
Having hung up his boots a year ago he has been around Gawthorpe and Turf Moor this season as Under-18s boss, and he has his tongue firmly in his cheek when he says his absence from the playing squad has made the difference.
"That’s how much I love the club, I offered to retire and they stayed up. I’d do anything for this club," the 39-year-old joked.
Duff is sitting in the new £10.6million Barnfield Training Centre, just one of many examples of how the club has changed since he arrived 13 years ago.
Another is the strength of the squad, and the man who made 383 appearances for the Clarets believes it is that depth that has helped push the club to safety this time around.
"Look at the bench, there was a game this year towards the end, we had full internationals on the bench. Robbie Brady, Gudmundsson, Defour, Paul Robinson, Andre Gray was top scorer last year," Duff said.
"That’s been the key. Compare it to the first year and maybe two years ago. I don’t think I’m doing players down, it’s pretty obvious the strength of the squad was a lot better.
"Who’d have thought you’d have an £8million (Defour) and a £12million (Brady) player who can’t get in the team?
"It tells you a lot about this club. Up until last year our record signing was £3million.
"Now we’ve got someone in for £12million and he’s spent time out of the team, so it shows there is quality in the squad."
Turf Moor will celebrate a memorable season on Sunday when the curtain comes down on 2016/17 with a home game against West Ham.
But Duff cautions against getting carried away heading into next season, and he cites the examples of clubs likes West Brom and Stoke for Burnley to follow.
"It’s good for everyone at the club, it’s good for the town, the players, the academy. It’s Premier League status and we can go again now," he said.
"I’m sure it will be difficult now with second season syndrome. You’ve got to kick on and not relax thinking we’re a Premier League club.
"Knowing the manager he’ll do everything to make sure that doesn’t happen. I don’t think it’s going to be any different next year, it’s going to be tough with the clubs coming up.
"You’ve got that top seven now who have probably pulled away, but everyone else is in a relegation battle.
"Clubs like Stoke, West Brom, the first thing they will think about is getting to 40 points. From Everton up they’re not worried about getting 40 points, they’re worried about the top four.
"The club spent a lot more money this season, not a lot in Premier League terms, but for this club. This is how West Brom did it when I first joined Burnley. They were up and down and up and down but then they cemented themselves in the Premier League.
"Ideally that’s a good model for us to try and add on and build and build. You can’t stand still, if you stand still someone else is moving forward."
Burnley have achieved survival staying true to the values imposed by Sean Dyche, and Duff said that was a key part of the success this season.
"That’s from the manager, that’s who he is. He is big on those sorts of thing. They work hard on the recruitment to sign good eggs," the former Northern Ireland international said.
"You don’t want zappers taking the energy and the life out of the squad. It’s too important, the bigger picture is the club and trying to stay in the league.
"The manager spoke to the players about creating history and they’ve done it. It’s another milestone, another achievement in this modern era.
"I’m sure everyone in the town is absolutely buzzing at the minute because it’s a good place to be."