Man on Fire

Wednesday 9 March 2011 11:00

Damien Duff is a notoriously serene character; but one who comes to life with the ball at his feet.

A player who has spent the majority of his career out on the wing, where his marauding runs and arresting change of pace evoke memories of dribblers of a bygone age. With his loping stride and unconventional gait, the Republic of Ireland international is a beguiling mix of fluency and endeavour, making him the scourge of full-backs for almost a decade-and-a-half.

Considered a precocious talent from the moment he made his professional debut in May 1997 at the age of 18, Duff has won two Premier League titles and two League Cups. He was also his country’s standout player at the 2002 World Cup.

Duff, who turned 32 last week, has also been influential in the white and black of Fulham where, through his honest determination and vibrant edge, he has won many admirers during his 18 months at Craven Cottage.

“This is my second season at the Club and I’m very happy with how things have gone for me here,” explains Damien. “To be honest, I have loved every minute. The team enjoyed a great season last year, so that made for a good start to life here. The Europa League Final was the pinnacle really.

“The current season has been a bit mixed, but results and performances have picked up since the start of the year – and we’re doing well. We’ve enjoyed a good run of form and hopefully we can keep adding to that. There’s a fair bit of football to be played and we have ambitions of finishing the season as strong as possible.”

With an obvious attacking flair, Duff has rarely failed to catch the eye. But he also impresses with the contribution that he makes defensively, with words of praise flowing exuberantly from his team-mates. He is a player that can fit into almost any tactical plan – a case first proved under Roy Hodgson and now Mark Hughes.

A switch from a more familiar position on the left flank to the right has also proved beneficial, with his ability to cut inside now a key component of the Whites’ attacking armoury. It comes as little surprise also to hear that he is relishing the team’s newfound creative freedom.

“There has been a shift in philosophy,” he admits. “And, of course, it’s one that works well for me. In the past, maybe we were more about containing teams and keeping our shape, but now we’re going at teams, and from the moment we get on the ball we’re breaking very quickly.

“Last season, Roy moved me to the right and it’s a shift in position that has, for whatever reason, proved a positive one. To be honest, I’m probably more comfortable on the right these days. It’s a role that I have really taken to.

“Of course, throughout my career I’ve played on the other side of the pitch, but I certainly don’t feel out of place on the right. I like to cut inside to either get a shot on goal or pick a pass to a team-mate. That said, I still feel that I have the ability to go on the outside and get a ball into the box. It’s good to have those options.”

Like many at Fulham, Duff is evidently enjoying life at Craven Cottage after experiencing mixed fortunes at a former club, in his case Newcastle. At Chelsea he had held down a place in what was arguably the most competitive midfield in world football at the time, and he moved to St. James’ Park with ambitions of further success.

“I had a great time at Chelsea, where I won two Premier League trophies and a League Cup,” recalls Damien. “But the time came to move on and Newcastle was an exciting challenge. It goes without saying that I went there to do well, but despite giving my all in the three years that I was there, things just didn’t work out.

“I’m the first to admit that, and it’s something that unfortunately happens in football. I don’t look back on that period with the happiest of memories, which is a shame, but then again, anyone that was at the game here when we played Newcastle last month would have seen that they don’t have the fondest memories of me either.

“But I’ve moved on, and I like to think that I have found my feet again here at Fulham. It’s a good environment and one that players feel very comfortable in. This is a club with so much character and I’m very happy to be helping move it forward.”

Having made his professional debut almost 14 years ago, Duff made his 500th league appearance in the 1-1 draw at Wigan in January and having shaken off a niggling calf injury, his time at the top looks set to continue for a while yet.

Aided by a boundless enthusiasm for the game, his sheer passion just to play makes him an intriguing footballing persona and one that seemingly exists outside the hype of the modern game.

“It’s nice to be back in the team and playing well,” confesses Damien. “I had a few injury problems early on in the season, but thankfully they appear to be behind me now. I feel fit and sharp, and I’m loving my football as much as I ever have done.

“Fulham have always been a good footballing side and I knew that I could fit into that. You can never be sure of how things will work out, I’m someone that knows that only too well, but it has gone well for me here and long may that be the case.

“I’ve never been one to spend a lot of time talking - I like to leave that for others. I don’t like bragging about things I may have done or achieved. For me, the time to talk is when you’ve finished playing.

“I’m sure I’ll look back at some point and think a bit differently, but when the time is right. For now, I’m more concerned about concentrating on my football and giving my all for this club. I’ve been in the game for a while now, but I still have a lot more to give.”