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Across almost two decades, Damien Duff played a key part in two Premier League victories, as well as two League Cup wins, an appearance in the 2002 UEFA Team of the Year alongside legends like Ronaldo, Ballack, and Zidane, as well as earning 100 caps for his country across a stellar international career.
The Dublin-born winger was simply phenomenal on his day, hopping and skipping past opposition defenders with the casual ease of a schoolboy, and played a key part in some of the Premier League’s strongest sides, contributing with a good number of goals and assists, as well as general all-round, hard-working play to help his team battle for every point.
Unlike many players born in Ireland, Duff’s professional career didn’t begin with an Irish club. He did spend some of his youth with a couple of teams in his homeland but was very quickly snapped up by Blackburn Rovers, making his debut at the age of 18 and being crowned Man of the Match, foreshadowing the fantastic career that was still to come.
He also started to make his name in the Republic of Ireland youth teams, being rated as one of the best players to star at the 1997 World Youth Championships as Ireland’s U-20 squad made it to the semis. Anyone who had the good fortune to watch Duff in his early years could tell that this young man was destined for the top.
Living up to his ‘rising star’ status, Duff quickly established himself in the Blackburn first eleven. He suffered the sour taste of relegation in his first full season but helped the club push back into the Premier League and aided them all the way to a League Cup win in 2002. His crowning moment at the club came in the following season as he scored 11 goals, the most of any Rovers player, as the club finished 6th.
The 2002 World Cup was another highlight reel for Damien Duff. Far and away Ireland’s best player at the tournament, the winger was simply unstoppable and almost dragged his side to an unlikely win against Spain in the knockout round. The Rovers’ man also played a starring role in one of the most memorable moments of the tournament, performing an oriental-style bow to the crowd after scoring against Saudi Arabia.
His brilliance soon earned him a move to Chelsea for £17 million. The arrival of José Mourinho at the club spelt danger for Duff, with Arjen Robben being recruited and offering stern competition for a spot in the starting eleven, but the Irishman rose to the challenge, becoming a key player in Mourinho’s title-winning squads, with his strong work ethic and positive attitude praised by his manager and fans.
A move to Newcastle followed, where injuries and other issues began to slightly derail Duff’s rollercoaster career, summed up by one fateful moment in 2009 when Duff’s own goal against Aston Villa sent his side down to the Championship. However, a move to Fulham gave Duff a fresh start and another opportunity to become a leading light for a Premier League club. He grasped the chance with both hands, scoring some great goals and reaching a Europa League final with the club.
From there, he spent some time in Australia with Melbourne City, before heading back to his homeland for a brief spell with Shamrock Rovers. He also kept himself relevant at international level all the way through to Euro 2012, making his final appearance as captain of his country in Ireland’s group game against Italy. He’s currently working as a first-team coach at Celtic and we might see him in a more prominent coaching or managerial role in the years to come.