There’s still life in the old Duffer yet
As his Premier career winds down, the Fulham player is open to job offers
Damien Duff: “T here’s nothing better than playing for your country but not one bit of me ever wants to go back.”
The Easter coaching camps mean it’s been hectic at the Fulham training ground in south London this week, with countless kids milling about the place. There’s the odd pro wandering through the crowd too, but no Damien Duff who has arrived early and is already safely tucked away, out of sight, preparing for another day of rehab on the knee injury that has, it seems, ended his Premier League career.
Duff interviews are so rare that the club’s press officer, Carmelo, admits to having thought there must be some mistake when told that there one was lined up for that day.
As it happens, though, the 35-year-old has been on radio with Keith Andrews and TV with Brian Kerr over the last couple of weeks so this is the third instalment of what is, by the Dubliner’s standards, a Rihanna-style media blitz.
He is, characteristically, embarrassed by the thought of it all and explains that the first was a favour to a friend, the second a conscious attempt to see how he might take to television punditry while this interview has been arranged through Heart Children Ireland, the charity for which he has been acting as an ambassador due to his young son Woody’s heart condition – which was successfully addressed through surgery when he was six months old.
He confirms early on the impending end of his Fulham career and his desire to travel a bit, possibly to the US or Australia, with his wife and young kids, before settling down back in Dublin when it comes time for Woody, his eldest, to start school. But the fact that he is already casting an eye around for a new line of work beyond that seems a useful starting point.
“Maybe that’s half the reason I’ve been injured,” suggested the long-time Republic of Ireland international, whose belief that everything that has happened him, has happened for a reason, crops up repeatedly as he speaks.
“I’ve had an awful lot of time to look at what I’m going to do after my career. Obviously I tried the TV – I honestly never thought I’d see the day – and while it was nerve-racking at the start I got more comfortable as the night went on, but I just needed to try it and see if I liked it (his observation, when asked about a player diving, that he might be the wrong person to ask as “I like a little dive myself” was a decent highlight of a generally well-regarded debut).”
As for coaching, his rather more likely long-term option, he said: “I don’t want to sound big-headed but I think I’ve got an awful lot to offer; I’ve worked with the best and a lot of s**t out there as well so I think I know what’s good and what’s bad so it’s just about being able to deliver on that on a pitch.
“I definitely want to try (perhaps ideally, he suggests, with underage international sides) and it’ll all be at home.”
‘Grow up Irish’
He’ll miss going for a coffee on the King’s Road, he said, and being able to bring the kids to a show, but he is desperate for them to be around their families and “to grow up Irish,” so “I won’t be moving back there just to pack my bags again.”
If his knee is okay by then, he might start on the FAI-run course at the end of May. He elaborated: “A few of the lads are going to be doing it; Stephen Hunt was on to me, I’d go just to watch him coaching for a weekend . . . that,” he concluded with a grin, “would amuse me.”
None of which, he insisted, is to say that after more than 600 senior club games he’s done with playing. “Nah, I remember reading Fergie’s book, the bit about Roy Keane where he says about Roy thinking he was Peter Pan; I think I’ve definitely got that, whether you’d call it, syndrome or whatever. I hear the lads slagging me about being old but I still see myself as a whippersnapper.”
The fact that his current injury has ruled him out of a fight for Premier League survival – which continues at Tottenham today – has, he saids, left him struggling to “stay sane”. But the fact that he sustained it when clattered during a training session with the youths he had insisted on joining despite having been given a few days off may confirm his own suspicion that he needs “a reality check” on the “whippersnapper” score.
Still, he feels he has a couple more years left in him and while there is a slightly vague plan “to take a detour on the way home”, he doesn’t rule out fulfilling his promise to end his career in the League of Ireland by joining a club here in the summer.
“I even cringe every time I say that and there’s something in the papers,” he added. “I’m sure there are people out there saying ‘Jesus, Duffer, will you ever just shut up talking about it and just do it’. Anyway, nobody rings me,” he continued laughing. “I keep saying I’m going to play in Ireland but no f**ker wants me. I’d want to chirp down.”
Just in case, he says he has been reading up on the league and watching games on TV in order to get a better feel for it.
It’ll be a long way from Stamford Bridge after which, he said at the time, anything would be a step down, but after three seasons he willingly took that step, deciding that he just wanted to play, and so he went to Newcastle when, he insisted, he needn’t have.
“Yeah, it was me that pushed to go,” he said. “I spoke to Jose and he wanted me to stay but me being me, I was probably a bit bull-headed, and I just wanted to play every week. You could argue that I should have stayed, believed I’d get back in, but I still wouldn’t change it, the bad times at Newcastle still mould you into the person that you are today.”
Those times still clearly hurt, though, with Duff recalling the parade of managers, mishaps, injuries and disappointments that characterised his time at the club.
“I thought it was going to be an exciting place to go and an exciting place to play football; just classic wing play but it was an absolute slog to be honest for three years.”
His subsequent switch to Fulham, where he was reunited with Roy Hodgson, was followed a year or so later by the birth of his son and, he admits, a major shift in outlook.
“I used to think there was nothing more important than football but having the kids, then Woody’s operation and all puts everything else into perspective. It’s definitely calmed me and grounded me; it’s probably what I needed 10 years or so ago.”
Going back over his Republic of Ireland career, he recalled laughing his way through Saipan along with some of the other young players, thinking it was all a joke when “if I’d been Roy’s age, I’d probably have been shouting about it too”.
Though they are not in touch, he really likes the Corkman, whose willingness to return to the game with Ireland as a number two surprised Duff – “I never thought he’s do that but I think it surprised everybody, didn’t it?” – and credits him with a major role in raising the FAI’s standards.
Comparing Saipan with the set-up in Poland would, he said, be like “comparing night and day”.
Still, Duff walked away after the Euro2012, believing that “it just felt the right time,” and concluded that “there’s nothing better than playing for your country but not one bit of me ever wants to go back.”
Asked about Giovanni Trapattoni’s decision to stick around, he said: “I loved him . . . but there’s a lot to be said for leaving before you are asked to leave and I suppose that’s maybe what I did.”
It’s a common enough goal, of course, to leave the people wanting more and Duff, far more than most, has succeeded on that score.