Damien Duff: I don’t want to turn into Kim Kardashian!

In the full transcript of his Lifestyle Sports interview, the former Republic of Ireland international speaks candidly about life after football

 

Four months after retiring from professional football, Damien Duff was at Lifestyle Sports in Grafton Street yesterday to promote the company’s Euro 2016 competition aimed at fans who missed out on tickets for Ireland’s games (see lifestylesports.com/greenticket). The following is the transcript of his group interview with journalists from various daily newspapers and websites.

So, how are you enjoying your retirement?

It’s wearing a bit thin now, possibly. I’m just about keeping myself busy, I guess. I’m aware of the perils that come about for retired footballers so I’m doing my coaching, going to the gym, although even that’s hard. Before, I was always getting fit and sharp for something, now it’s just to fill a morning. It’s great on the other hand, spending lots of time with the kids. I’m playing an awful lot of 5-a-side but you miss playing top quality football. You obviously don’t get that with your mates - I hope they don’t read this (smiles).

Could you have put retirement off any longer?

You’re playing 5-a-side and you feel good and you think maybe I could do another year but, listen, in my gut I know I’ve made the right decision. I’ve got a few things on. I’m looking forward to the summer. Yeah, I feel good playing 5-a-side but, at the same time, it’s a different story being up in Sligo chasing some full-back down the wing. That’s a different kettle of fish.

Was there an actual moment last season when you knew game was up?

It was Bohs away in the Leinster Senior Cup. I had a few niggles and what have you but I couldn’t kick a ball 30 yards. I think we got through to the final that night but I went home depressed. The missus was, like, ‘what’s wrong with you?’. I didn’t even tell her but I just knew in my heart of hearts. I always thought it would be a big decision in my head but the next morning I went straight up to Pat and said, ‘Listen, that’s me . . .’ And he was grand. Yeah, onwards and upwards.

Was the come down from a World Cup to the Leinster Senior Cup an issue?

No, ah no. There was definitely none of that, ever. Sure I’ve come home now and I’ve played for TEK United with my brother (Jamie) and I’d possibly still be there except I saw a couple of tackles going in that night and I was, like, ‘I ain’t getting involved in this stuff’.

You actually played a game for them?

Yeah, up in Berryfield, Enniskerry, yeah.

Since Rovers?

Yeah.

As a banger?

Eh, it was a friendly, like, but with a view to signing (laughs). So yeah, I saw a few tackles. It was Leinster Senior League, obviously, so it was just fuckin’ no chance - I’ve had enough operations and enough problems, I’d like to be able to walk so I haven’t been back.

Were there tackles on you?

No, that was the worrying thing. I’d say I would have got worse. I was just stood over on the wing, not coming inside, I just didn’t want to know so it’s five-a-side now for me. And to be fair I probably have options going forward. A couple of weeks ago I was over in Russia playing a 5-a-side tournament in a big indoor arena beside the Olympic Stadium and it was really great fun. I had (Gaizka) Mendieta, (Gianluca) Zambrotta and the likes on my team. That’s just me being a football fan, going across, wanting to still play competitive football.

Have you a lot of those offers? Chelsea Legends and the like?

Yeah, there’s a lot of that stuff going on but, at the same time, you don’t want to be going around tearing the arse out of it, excuse my French. But that (Moscow) was an exciting trip. I always liked the eastern bloc countries; I dunno, they’re weary, dark but just really interesting. It was great but the Spawell on a Thursday is enough for me at the minute.

Does the greater freedom to sightsee now when travelling make that more attractive?

Something like that, yeah. I guess I can jump on a plane with the kids whenever I want and that is nice. But me, being hard-working and honest, I’d like to feel as if I’ve earned a holiday or a trip. I don’t want to turn into . . . I was going to compare myself with Kim Kardashian or someone there; a little socialite or something, off doing these things. I like to earn nice things or even a weekend away.

Do you need something to do? A job?

That’s what I’m trying to figure out at the minute. Obviously, I’m doing the coaching down with Rovers, that’s two nights a week then we’ve a game on Saturday. Obviously I tried RTÉ a couple of weeks ago although that’s probably rich coming from me . . . I never liked punditry, I never liked pundits but at the same time you’re sitting at home and you need to go and try something, I guess.

I always would have found that sort of thing difficult so I put myself out of my comfort zone, put a bit pressure on myself. For a week or two beforehand I knew what game I was doing so I was studying, trying to be the best and what have you. But it’s just something to focus on because when you don’t have something to focus on, I guess it’s dangerous.

How do you think it went?

Well, I’m biased obviously . . . I thought, they looked back at it with me, they do things right; I thought me being analysed was over with my football career being over but no, the producer there looked back over it, talked to me about what he thought went well. I wouldn’t change anything that I said but obviously I like scratching heads and looking around at monitors and all that (a bit too much). Even at the time I was doing it I was thinking: ‘My God, what am I doing?’

But I’ve done it twice now and I find the more the evening wears on, the more I ease into it because at the start it was nerve-racking, I found it anyway. But then you look at the three guys last night, they’ve been doing it for years and it’s like they’re just sitting at home having a chat.

I thought it went well, though; I thought I gave a different point of view, maybe a modern insight into the game.

Possibility that you might be on board for the euros?

Possibly, we’ll see. I did enjoy it in a weird, sort of perverse sort of way. That’s probably just me being out of my comfort zone; you’ve done okay then you come home and you’re . . . oomph, a bit relieved, happy it went well. So possibly, I’ll possibly do a Champions League game in the next couple of weeks, touch wood if that goes well then possibly I’ll do a couple of games during the summer.

Would analysing the Irish team, lads that you’ve played with, be difficult?

Ah yeah, I’ve had a couple of offers from different people wanting to know if I’d do Irish games but I’ve refused to, it wouldn’t sit right with me, I still have friends there; friendships that have been built up over a long period of time. Not that I’d say anything negative about them anyway. But I wouldn’t risk it.

With Neville and Carragher seen to have shaken things up on Sky, do you think there’s maybe room for a similar sort of thing on Irish television, a more modern analysis that someone like you, a more recent retiree could bring?

I think so. I love listening to them; I wouldn’t even watch the games on a Monday night but I’d watch from seven to eight just to listen to those two. Like you said, a modern insight; I don’t know what game it was I did . . . Kiev against City, but the stuff like in Arsenal and Barca the night before, people trying to get a yellow card . . . people mightn’t see that, people mightn’t know that it goes on but it does, it goes on all the time and people don’t know that so if I could possibly give a little bit more insight into stuff like that then, yeah.

Would you see that as another way of keeping the football side of your brain ticking over?

Definitely. With RTÉ, if I didn’t like Darragh Maloney, I possibly wouldn’t have done it but I found him a really great guy; he just texted me last night . . . I thought I was away from all of this after leaving football but he said; ‘Have a look at the three guys later’ possibly learn or what have you. I guess it’s like learning all over again for me.

When I was playing football I was probably doing it without thinking so now I’m looking at games and thinking what has he done wrong? What would you do there? What was wrong? What was right? It’s the same when I coach; a couple of weeks ago the manager asked me to go over and do a bit with the left winger and I was walking across to the other pitch and I was thinking, ‘I don’t even know what to say to him here because I didn’t even know how I did it, it just happened, when I was at my best anyway. I probably struggled when I started to think about my game. But yeah, whether it’s punditry or coaching it’s kind of starting and learning all over again.

What about the opinions of the TV analysts when you were playing for Ireland? Did you pay any attention?

You always hear a snippet off someone but I always made a point of not reading papers and when you’re playing, you can’t watch the TV anyway. I’m only getting to see them now, because I’ve never really had a chance throughout my career and I was in England as well. Whether it be good or bad, if you start reading the papers looking for the good, you’ll always find bad and what have you. So in the end, I didn’t really read any.

You’ve talked about putting something back into youth development, would a Ruud Dokter-style role interest you?

I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do. But football’s my passion. It’s possibly the only thing I’m interested in, so yeah, it has to be football. I’d love to maybe give something back to the youth of Ireland, underage teams or whatever. But we’ll see where the badges takes me. He (Dokter) is doing a great job there (smiles ambiguously) so we’ll leave him at it.

Did you read the Graham Barrett Irish Times article?

I read it over a weekend, it took a while . . . I’d be in touch with Graham, he’s a good guy, he’s passionate about football. You have to listen to these people, I guess. So I read it, yeah.

What are your thoughts on the state of play with regard to youth development?

Graham would have an awful lot more insight than me but I’ve spoken to him about it. He’s seen it firsthand since he’s been here - it’s five or 10 years since he’s come home.

But with regards to hours, that’s something I’m passionate about. I don’t think kids get anywhere near the hours that they should (compared) to what they are doing in England. It’s hard to say to get more coaching because going out to this place or that, parents can’t do it.

(And anyway) I remember when I was a kid I’d go out, train once a week, have a five-a-side and go home and then just play on the Saturday. So for me, it’s just about hours of practice. I don’t think kids get anywhere near what they should. My whole childhood was (playing football) before school, lunchtime and when I got home. If I had a game on a Saturday, I’d go home and play football after.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think there’s that desire to go out. I just think there are so many distractions - tablets, iPhones for 10- and 11-year-olds. I was probably lucky because I didn’t have those distractions. So I was hitting maybe 20 or 30 hours a week back in 1990, I don’t think kids get anywhere near that now. So it’s not hard to understand, it’s not rocket science. If the kid’s doing four or five hours and I was doing 30 hours, he can’t lace my boots. It probably sounds arrogant, but that’s the way it is at any job - a writer or whatever.

It’s not an issue with organised coaching structures then? It’s about more practice?

Yeah, I’d be more swaying towards that. You said ‘organised’ there; you’re talking about teaching 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds where to stand on a pitch. Just let them go out and play and express themselves - that’s what I did. I didn’t really get any coaching until I went to England when I was 16. I had a couple of internationals before I went; Jimmy McDermott, Joe McGrath (were the coaches).

Everyone keeps saying we don’t have coaches; I just think it’s absolute nonsense, it’s ridiculous . . . just go out on the street and kick a ball, that’s what I did, that’s what Robbie did. If you go to anyone that’s got to England, it’s just hours. Hours of practice. And enjoy it! Whether they enjoy it now . . . it’s what I lived for, but like I said, there are so many distractions now.

Do kids have as much interest in football in general now? Players haven’t heard of Mark Hughes?

Yeah, especially as it was the player who I was comparing to Mark Hughes, I was giving him a compliment. I could talk to you about players from the fifties or sixties, I’ve heard of everyone. Nowadays, they’re on Facebook, taking photos, chatting up girls or whatever. I hadn’t even kissed a girl when I was going to England at 16. It’s sad, I know (laughs). I tell the lads out of Rovers this every week - it’s just about love of the game, whether they have it or they don’t.

A couple of weeks ago I went down to Loughlinstown to a five-a-side pitch just one morning. I was at a loose end and just rented out a pitch on my own. I felt weird going up asking for ‘a pitch for one, please’. I just had a kickabout on my own, just kicking a ball against a wall, practising with my right foot. I don’t know what I’m practising for but it’s just the love of the game and I don’t think you can teach a kid that, they either have it or they don’t.

Maybe we’re lucky in a way as well that we were inspired by the generation of the 10 years before, 88, 90 or 94 and maybe kids don’t have that now, I don’t know. You can look deeper but on the surface level it’s about getting out on the roads, that’s where it starts.

Where are we at after qualifying? How confident are you?

You have to be positive. I’m not going to be negative. Listen, knowing all the senior lads in the group, I know we had a disaster tournament in 2012 but we were as positive as anyone. You can possibly say that after two minutes of the Spain game you might as well have packed your bags. I think they were 1-0 up and when they are 1-0 up you’re just chasing.

I’ve no doubt they will be well prepared, though. Where are they going, down to Fota Island and then onto Versailles?

It’s a tough group, but not as tough with the Sweden game. But if you get off to a good start there, I think anything can happen. They (the Swedes) are a one man team. After watching him last night, I think Ibrahimovich, I didn’t realise he was 35, that’s what they said on TV anyway, but he’s still a class act. But like I said, I don’t think the rest of the Swedish team are up to anywhere near his standards. Italy will be a dark horse just because they are who they are and they have a top manager as well. Belgium are first in the world. I always find it strange, it doesn’t sound right, especially when Fellaini is playing for them, it doesn’t sit right again.

But they have good players?

They do, yeah, but whether they are that tight knit group you see winning a championship I don’t know. They flattered to deceive in the World Cup so I don’t know. Maybe if they had a bit of what Leicester City have, yeah, I would be all over them. But Benteke, Origi are having disappointing seasons, De Bruyne will be coming back from a similar operation to what I had and I’m still sore and that’s two years ago. Listen, they have amazing players but I don’t think they have togetherness that Ireland have.

Is it the Leicester City quality that’s our greatest strength?

Without a doubt yeah, I think you saw that against Bosnia, although I was disappointed with Bosnia. We steam-rolled them with hunger, desire and hard work and it goes a long way as you can see with Leicester City.

With the tournament structure now, a good result against Sweden and we could progress?

Definitely. Even getting into it was easier you could say but listen, we’re there and for me it all hangs on the Sweden game.

Does the frustration of 2012 still eat away at you?

I think it’s possibly parked, yeah. I knew before the tournament that I would retire so it would have been nice to go out on a better note. Even that summer, coming home, you possibly didn’t want to leave the gaff, go into town for a few pints; you just wanted to keep the head down. But that’s what you do in football. I’ve had bitter disappointments - I relegated Newcastle with an OG - but you move on.

Aiden McGeady has had a difficult season, ever have difficult times and doubt yourself?

Yeah, I had a lot of them. I don’t know if Aiden gets them as he’s a confident guy. He just needs to play and find a rhythm as he’s the best winger in the team, nobody touches him if he’s fit and sharp. Martin worked with him at Celtic, I think he made him double player of the year, and if he’s fit and sharp I think he’s the first name on the team-sheet along . . . with a couple of others. He just has to get fit as I’m not sure how much he’s playing at Sheffield Wednesday, he got an hour last week. He just needs to be playing, especially as a winger, your whole games is on sharpness.

Is hiring Jose Mourinho the answer for Manchester United?

I think so. I think he’s the only man for the job. I think after Guardiola signing with City, Manchester (United) have to come out and make a massive statement. There’s no bigger one than that. I wouldn’t say they are guaranteed trophies, but knowing the way they work from my time at Melbourne - they’re obviously a sister club - I could see them steamrolling teams to be fair. City, that is.

Ireland’s pre-tournament friendlies, how do players view them? Are they seen as significant?

For the likes of me, and I guess it’s our mentality, Robbie, Shay . . . they were as big as . . . there’s obviously a different buzz in the air compared to competitive games, but we tried to treat them all the same. For the likes of Harry Arter and Alan Judge, trying to break into the 23, I’d like to think they’d be running around like men possessed. They’re difficult games. But then I think we had Bosnia before we went to the last Euros and it was horrendous, end of story, it was walking pace. But nearer the time, people don’t want to get injured or what have you. But I expect them to be competitive enough.

But they’re really important to the fringe players?

They probably don’t want to hear it but, yeah, they want to impress. We know what Robbie Keane can do, we know what Seamus Coleman and John O’Shea can do. It’s the lads on the fringes who need to come in and put in a proper performance where Roy and Martin say: ‘Wow!”

Are you rooting for Leicester City in the Premier League?

Rooting for them, yeah, but still just expecting them to slip up. I can’t believe it. You might hit me with a team that has done something similar, but I don’t remember one in any league. It just shows you how far hard work and togetherness and hunger can get you. Compare the squad to Arsenal, City, any of the top-five or six and it’s night and day. I’d still be a bit worried about them for the run-in. But like everyone else I want them to win it.

Good to see Claudio Ranieri there?

Ah yeah, he’s a great guy. No doubt he’ll have them all working hard; that’s what he did at Chelsea. But there’s that thing that hovers over him - I don’t think he has ever won a league anywhere. Maybe he might have won a ‘B’ or a Championship type league, but I don’t think he’s won a top league. I find it incredible that they are up there, especially with Claudio at the helm. This time last year with a similar squad I think they were third or fourth from bottom. Listen, it’s incredible. He’s an amazing guy, he brought me to Chelsea, so I love him and I want him to do well.

Did you take to him straight away?

I met him a couple of times. It took me a week or so to make up my mind because I didn’t want to leave Blackburn. He’s a bit like the Trap - a lot of charisma about him. All the lads loved him. I think you see now at City, some players look to have downed tools, I’m not sure. We knew three or four months beforehand that he was gone out of there but we were at it until the end because we loved him so much and they were good guys as well who just put in a shift.

He used to be called the Tinkerman as well because of the amount of changes he’d make to a team - sometimes to a winning team. But I don’t think he does that now. We all learn. And he’s obviously a very experienced manager.

Was there frustration within the team at Chelsea at all the changes?

Not really. When you have that many games, 60 or 70, you were still playing your one game a week and you might play Champions League or what have you. So no, not at all.

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