The big interview: Damien Duff – "I cried on the day I left Chelsea – looking back, I should have fought for my place"

Damien Duff

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It’s still an hour before we’re due to interview Damien Duff in Dublin city centre, so FFT head for a quiet coffee a few blocks away – only for the man himself to bound through the door.

“I see you’ve found the good coffee shop, then!” Duff laughs at this chance meeting. Soon, we’re on our way to our planned rendezvous point, Hogan’s pub.

“I’ve never really been one for doing interviews – I’m doing this because it’s FourFourTwo and no other reason,” says the 37-year-old, now retired. “I’ve read the magazine since I was a kid when
I was moving over to England, so it’s in my blood! I did a piece with you as a lad coming through, in ’96 or ’97.”

Twenty years on, it’s time to reflect on what became of that Blackburn Rovers teenage prospect. As it turns out, he didn’t do too badly at all...

Damien Duff

Duff brought a brilliant career to an end in 2015

Is it true teachers laughed when you filled in your careers form at school, and it had only one choice: footballer?
Glen Helliwell, Liverpool

[Laughs] Yes, everyone had put ‘lawyer’ or ‘IT’ and I just put down ‘footballer’. It didn’t go down well – they told my mam! But I wanted it more than any other kid my age. I didn’t need friends. I’d go on the road, playing on my own for hours. That gave me a head start.

During your seven years at Blackburn, I watched you grow from a youngster with potential to a high-class player. What would you put that down to?
Luke Baines, via Facebook

I think Neil Warnock was Huddersfield manager - that was probably the bit that didn’t sell it to me!

I obviously had a fair bit of ability, but I went to Blackburn when they were Premier League champions and the coaching staff were all unbelievable: Kenny Dalglish, Terry Darracott, Alan Irvine, Ray Harford and Tony Parkes. Blackburn’s scouts had spotted me playing in Ireland.

I went over there and it was between Blackburn and Huddersfield. I loved Huddersfield – I think Neil Warnock was manager, that was probably the bit that didn’t sell it to me! – but Blackburn just felt right. Kenny Dalglish took myself, my mam and my dad over to see the new training ground being built and was getting the plans out on the boot of his car. I thought, ‘Is this for real?’.

Damien Duff

Duff joined Blackburn in 1996 and spent seven years at Ewood Park

How great an achievement was winning the Worthington Cup with Blackburn, against Spurs, in 2002?
Tony Barber, Clitheroe

That helped get the club back to where it belonged: winning some silverware. After winning the league, three or four years later we were relegated, which is incredible. Relegation was hard as a young lad, but that’s when you learn the most – I enjoyed it so much that I got relegated three times during my career, at Newcastle and Fulham too! Getting promoted again and then to win the League Cup was very special.

We had a lot of good players, such as David Dunn, [Dwight] Yorke and [Andy] Cole. Mark Hughes played that final in central midfield – he was about 52 at the time and was still man of the match! I loved working with Graeme Souness – he always got stick for not looking after Irish or Catholic players but that was all a load of nonsense. He was always very good with me.

Damien Duff, Graeme Souness, Damien Duff

Duff enjoyed working with Souness at Blackburn

CLUBS AND COUNTRY

  • 1996-2003 Blackburn
  • 2003-06 Chelsea
  • 2006-09 Newcastle
  • 2009-14 Fulham
  • 2014-15 Melbourne City
  • 2015 Shamrock Rovers
  • 1998-2012 Republic of Ireland

How close were you to joining Liverpool during your career?
Nigel Walters, Birmingham

I came close two or three times. The first was a year or two before I signed for Chelsea. I would have gone there, but Blackburn wanted a big fee so not too many clubs could afford to buy me back then! When I was leaving Chelsea, the same move nearly happened again.

What really went on with Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy at the World Cup?
Van Benis, via Facebook

I guess everyone knows now. It was a barney and Roy went his own way. You have to admire him for sticking to his beliefs. I know it bothered the country but it didn’t really bother me very much – I just wanted to get on with it, although it was a bizarre few days. I can look back on it all with a giggle now, although I’m sure Mick doesn’t! It was unfortunate missing Roy’s talent, and God knows how far we’d have gone with him in the team.

How did your bowing celebration against Saudi Arabia come about?
Michael Smyth, via Twitter

Around the hotel, people were always bowing and they were so polite, so it was a nod to the Japanese

It just came to me in the hotel room. I was brushing my teeth thinking it’d be nice to score at a World Cup – not many Irish people had done it. Around the hotel, people were always bowing and they were so polite, so it was a nod to the Japanese. It was an iconic photo and I had a lot of Asian fans after that. I had quite a few follow me at Chelsea and Fulham – they took a shine to me!

How flattered were you to be one of Roman Abramovich’s first signings?
Emma Stroud, London

I don’t really think about it like that, but I remember lying in bed in the summer, dying with a hangover, when I got the call that they wanted me. It was a bolt out of the blue. I flew over a couple of times because I wasn’t quite sure, but eventually I signed and it was the right decision. Within a month they’d spent £150 million on people like [Hernan] Crespo and [Juan Sebastian] Veron.

Chelsea really should have won the Champions League in 2004, when they lost out to Monaco in the semi-finals, shouldn’t they?
Andrew Lambert, Dorchester

Who knows? But I think Mourinho’s name was on it that year, even if we’d got through the Monaco semi. I don’t think that anyone was going to beat Porto and Mourinho. I was out injured for the Monaco games – I had a jinx with semi-final games in Europe. Missing out on those nights was tough to take.

Chelsea Monaco

Chelsea were knocked out in the semi-finals of the Champions League by Monaco

Given he had created the backbone of the team that won the Premier League, would Claudio Ranieri have won the title if he'd stayed on?
Keith Clarges, via Facebook

You always had a feeling after Abramovich took over that Claudio’s days were numbered, and there was definitely a shift in the mentality once Mourinho had come in.

Possibly. With the quality we had, you would like to think so, and he signed [Petr] Cech and [Arjen] Robben before Jose came in. Claudio was brilliant, all the guys loved him. We may have won the league in that one season I worked with him, but nobody was catching the Invincibles at Arsenal. You always had a feeling after Abramovich took over that Claudio’s days were numbered, and there was definitely a shift in the mentality once Mourinho had come in.