Player Profile: Damien Duff
Date of Birth: 2/3/1979
Height: 1.77 m (5 ft 9 in)
National Team: Republic of Ireland
International Caps: 100
International Goals: 8
One of the most capped Republic of Ireland players of all time and central to one of the great Premier League teams, a newly-minted Chelsea, Damien Duff can lay a claim to be one of the most influential Premier League players in the 2000s.
Duff was playing professional football as recently as 2015 but his footballing journey began in the early 90s when he spent six years going from academy to academy in his homeland across the Irish sea. When Blackburn Rovers attended a trial day at St. Kevin’s Boys, a Dublin-based youth outfit, the scouts saw enough in Duff to offer him a deal then and there.
He made his Rovers and Premier League debut on the final day of the 96-97 season, almost two years to the day that his new club had won the league title. Their fortunes had declined since those heady days and Duff’s debut coincided with them securing a 13th place finish.
It would turn out to be the first of 185 appearances for Rovers in the league and 223 in total. In his first full campaign at Ewood Park, Duff’s name would become a permanent fixture on the team sheet. Roy Hodgson admired Duff’s holistic contribution to the team, being as potent in defence as he was in attack. Eventually, Duff would transform into a more strictly attack-minded player, but for a coach with defensive paranoia almost pathologically instilled in him, Duff was a perfect fit in a Roy Hodgson XI.
He remained at Rovers after their relegation from the top tier at the end of the 98-99 season despite interest from a number of clubs in the top half of the Premier League. He homed his abilities playing in the Championship – then called the First Division – playing 81 games across two seasons.
When he returned to the Premier League, it was as a much better player than when he left it. The physicality of the Championship had meant Duff’s pace and strength had increased ten-fold, and the intense pressing nature meant he had learnt to use his excellent technical attributes in tighter spaces, making the transition from second to first tier an easy one.
Now under the command of Graeme Souness, Blackburn finished in a very respectable 10th place in their first season back in the big time. Not only that but they won their first trophy since the Premier League success of ’95 and one that remains their most recent triumph. Duff played his part in a 2-1 League Cup final victory over Tottenham Hotspur at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. A scrappy game but one Duff will remember as his first major trophy in the game.
The next season brought no silverware but was even better for Duff and Rovers fans alike. They finished in 6th place in the Premier League, just seven points behind Chelsea. Duff was Rovers’ top scorer in the league that year, finishing the campaign with nine goals in his 26 matches. It was a return that was bound to grab the attention of a gaggle of Premier League heavyweights.
Chelsea had been desperate to secure Duff’s service for months before they finally got their man – it took activating his £17-million release clause to have the opportunity to get him to put pen to paper. Duff was one of the first signings of the Roman Abramovich era. It’s a mark of how good Duff was that those in the know at the Bridge had decided to fork out such a huge sum for the Irishman.
With Duff on the wing and occasionally deployed as a shadow-striker, Chelsea would finish as runners-up to the Arsenal’ Invincibles’. They reached the Champions League semi-finals that year too, with many of Duff’s best performances coming on the European stage. They truly established themselves as a force at football’s top table.
The next season brought about the finest hour in Duff’s career. Chelsea stormed to the Premier League title, losing just once and claiming 95 points, a record which stood for over a decade. Duff maintained his place in the starting line-up even with the threat of Arjen Robben, one of the best players to play the game in the last 20 years, looming large over him. They won the League Cup in the same campaign.
They retained their Premier League title the following campaign, albeit slightly less emphatically. Though he still made 28 appearances for Chelsea in the league, Duff’s minutes were beginning to wane slightly and a transfer was on the horizon for the Irishman.
He joined Newcastle United where he would stay for three seasons. After the Magpies were relegated at the end of the 08-09 season, Duff joined Fulham. He was part of the side that reached the Europa League final in his first season with the club. He made 173 appearances in his time at Craven Cottage before having brief spells at Melbourne City and Shamrock Rovers to see out his career.
He made 632 appearances in total, scoring 83 times. He truly had one of the best and most consistent domestic careers of any Irishman.
Duff made bang-on a century of caps for his nation, his last coming as captain in the Republic of Ireland’s 2-0 loss to Italy at the 2012 European Championship Finals.
It was his second major tournament with his country; his first came in 2002 at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. He scored a goal against Saudi Arabia in their final group stage game which secured safe passage to the Second Round – it was one of the highlights of his career, domestic or international.
He scored eight goals in Irish green and might have represented them at the 2010 World Cup had it not been for Thierry Henry’s now-infamous handball goal which knocked them out.
Where is Damien Duff Now?
Duff stayed in football after his retirement and is currently First Team Coach at Celtic under the management of Neil Lennon.
Before this, Duff held a number of youth team roles, taking charge of the Shamrock Rovers Under-15 team and the Republic of Ireland’s team in the same age bracket.
He then graduated to the Shamrock Rovers first team where he remained until he was given the job of reserve team coach at Celtic. It was only one month after his arrival that he was promoted to the position he holds now
Did You Know? Interesting facts about Damien Duff
– Doh, Duff: Damien says he has been sent countless items of ‘Duff Beer’ memorabilia, Homer’s favourite tipple in The Simpsons – but claims he’s never drunk it…
– Lone Rover: In his time at Blackburn, Duff was pictured when he hired out a five-a-side pitch to himself. He rationalised the experience by saying it was like “golfers going off to the driving range”.