Michael Duff admits ending his lengthy Turf Moor stay is a wrench but feels the opportunity to launch his managerial career with former club Cheltenham Town is too good to miss.
Duff is leaving the Clarets after 14 years as player and coach to take over at the League Two Robins.
And his decision to leave Burnley – with the full backing of boss Sean Dyche – will take him back to Whaddon Road where he is also a long-time favourite after spending eight seasons there as a player and helping the Cheltenham gain promotion to the Football League in 1999.
Duff – who retired from playing in 2016 before going into coaching with the Clarets’ Academy set-up as he looked to pursue a managerial career – said: “A lot of things lined up at the right time. The opportunity came to me.
“I had to think long and hard because I’m in a good place at the minute. But it’s something that’s always been the long-term goal.
“It hasn’t been an easy decision because of the relationship I’ve got with the club and the manager, particularly.
“Some people might say you’re mad doing what I’m doing, but I’d rather do it and see whether I’m any good at it or not, rather than not know, and there’s only one way I’m ever going to find out.
“I only ever had two clubs in my career, so they are both close to my heart. Cheltenham is still a result I look for and all my family still live in and around the area. It’s an opportunity to go back home.
“If it had been any other job in League Two I probably wouldn’t have taken it, but you don’t know.
“You can’t pick and choose when you get your opportunity. There’s an ideal world which doesn’t very often happen in football, but this did seem to be the right opportunity at the right time.
“The wrench is because I’m in such a good place at the minute, but I can’t sit and say: ‘what if, what if?’ I’ve got to take the plunge.”
Michael Duff played 337 times for Cheltenham
Duff admits he had been preparing himself for management for a number of years after starting to take his coaching qualifications while still playing an important role as a player under Dyche.
“Probably in the last three or four years of my career I’m probably looking at the game differently, the way the manager delivers and analysis sessions,” added the former defender, who played 383 games for the Clarets before signing off as Dyche's side won the Championship title in 2016.
“I was taking notes and storing all those things because eventually I wanted to have a go at it myself.”
And the 40-year-old, twice a promotion winner under Dyche, goes with the manager’s blessing.
“We are sorry to see Michael go, but he does so with the best wishes of everyone at Turf Moor,” said Dyche.
“He’s been a terrific servant of this club for 14 years and wants to take the next step in his career into management.
“He’s been a valuable member of the staff here after his playing days ended, and we fully respect his decision. He feels that now is the right time and we wish him every success in the role.”
Duff joined Burnley from Cheltenham in July, 2004 and has since played a huge role in one of the most successful periods in the Clarets’ history.
The former Northern Ireland international, 40, leaves as a three-time promotion winner to the Premier League and as firm favourite among staff, team-mates and supporters.
“I just wanted to play in the Championship when I came. That’s why I came. The first contract I signed was pretty much on what I was on in League Two,” Duff told the Clarets’ website.
“But it was the opportunity to play at Championship level. I think we were favourites for relegation in my first season and we had eight players when we signed.
“If you fast-forward 14-and-a-half years to now and the club has just finished seventh in the Premier League, it shows how far the club has gone.
“The three promotions – via first, second and from the play-offs – were all special in different ways.
“The manager’s first promotion here in 2013/14 was probably the best one on a personal note. It just seemed to be a special group, for me.
“I played quite a lot in the first one (2009), bang on half a season in the second one and it was great to be part of all that.
“When the club signed me and when I signed for the club, I don’t think either party were thinking ‘we’re on the start of a journey here’.
“It’s been a long process and there have been bumps along the way, but the fans have been great with me. I think they even had a song towards the end, although I think that was through time served rather than ability.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the place. It’s been great.”