Burnley chairman Mike Garlick committed to Premier League success
BURNLEY, England -- It's difficult to escape a pervading air of realism in Burnley and the sense that good times are there to be enjoyed, rather than regarded as the stepping stone to something even better.
As the football club -- from a town that has a population of just over 70,000 and is the smallest to ever boast a Premier League team -- stands on the verge of climbing above Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham to move into the top four, should they beat Stoke City at home on Tuesday, chairman Mike Garlick admits his greatest high as a supporter of the club was almost its lowest-ever moment.
"Probably surviving going out of the league in 1987, which is weird, considering we are right at the opposite end of it now," Garlick told ESPN FC, recalling a final-day victory over Leyton Orient 30 years ago that saved Burnley from relegation to non-league football.
"That was the ultimate low. But we are now at the ultimate high, and we want to stay there."
Burnley's success story this season is simply a continuation of the club's remarkable progression during Garlick's five years as chairman, a period that has coincided with Sean Dyche's five-year reign as manager. The club has experienced two promotions to the Premier League in that time, either side of a relegation in 2015, after having one of the lowest budgets in the Championship.
A club with a famous history (champions in 1921 and 1960) is now resurgent and debt-free, proving that a model of prudent spending and a squad largely sourced from within the British Isles can succeed among the super-rich elite of the Premier League. And Garlick insists that Burnley's approach will not change, regardless of how high they climb this season.
"I can probably say I am the poorest chairman in the Premier League, and in many ways I'm proud of that, considering what we have achieved with what we've got," Garlick said. "Through having to live within your means, I think you get better at what you do. You have to look at every angle, every possibility, and you make good decisions because of that.
"If we acted in an oligarch's way during one transfer window, the damage done could last for five years. It doesn't just damage you for one season. Bradford City is probably the best example: They had 14 to 21 days of summer madness [in 2000], and it took the club five to 10 years to turn around from that. We simply don't want that to happen. We want to be as ambitious as we can, but we have to live within our means, and whatever we do has to be sustainable.
"If, God forbid, we get relegated, we would be able to live within our means in the Championship. That is always one thing to have an eye on for us."
"There is always pressure to spend more and you can always spend more," Garlick continued. "It is very easy to go mad at the start of the window and say we have to have this person or that person. But we take our time; we have our target list. We have our own valuation on players, and if we can get the players we want for what we deem to be fair value, they will be purchased. If they are above what we consider fair value, they won't be purchased and we will move on to the next target. It's as simple as that.
"The fans get it, they are OK and they understand. I am not an oligarch and we are not billionaires, so we have to be sustainable in whatever we do."
Dyche's success in transforming Burnley on the pitch has fuelled the team's rise, leading to the 46-year-old being linked with recent managerial vacancies at Leicester and Everton. The former Watford boss remains at Turf Moor, however, with neither club making official contact with Burnley for their manager. Garlick insists he was never concerned about losing Dyche.
"It was never in doubt," Garlick said. "I don't worry about the speculation.
"If we are doing well and Sean's here and he is doing well, there is always going to be speculation; you can't avoid it. So you just turn up, day in, day out and get on with the job and see wherever it takes us."
"Did we have a plan in case he went? Yes, but I guess there is only one on that shortlist and that's Sean," Garlick added. "He has been fantastic as a coach, as a man-manager and as a motivator. He has all the passion, as well, and he ticks all the boxes for us."
With Dyche guiding Burnley into the top seven, within two points of the Champions League spots, how high can the club go? Is there a determination to push higher still? Or is this the point where that Burnley realism kicks in?
"This season has been unbelievable," Garlick said. "We always sit down with the manager and the Board at the end of the season and work out where we want to be this time next year.
"Any improvement is a bonus for us; the key thing is to stay in the division, but it's always nice to improve on the position that you finish [last season]. So to be sitting seventh, way above any relegation spot, is fantastic."
"Everyone locally will class being in the Premier League as a success, as winning. That has to be the baseline target every year," Garlick continued. "I know it sounds a bit boring to target that year after year, but that is the target: get to 40 points, survive and then to push on from there. That is certainly the target this year.
"We want to be a high-end development club in the Premier League and recognise that if a player is really successful and at a certain age, they will want to move on to top five clubs. So we will look to develop players. If, in time, they look to move on to a top six club ... well, every club in the world is a selling club apart from maybe one or two, like Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid.
"There comes a time for most players when, if a valuation is met or exceeded, the club has to consider selling, and we are no different. But survival remains the target. Anything better than that would be just fantastic."
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_