Damien Duff explains why he signed for Chelsea instead of Manchester United

damien duff chelsea

“Chelsea was never on my radar. Ideally, it would have been Man U or Liverpool.”

Damien Duff has been speaking about why a proposed transfer to Manchester United failed to materialise and he ended up signing for Chelsea instead.

In the summer of 2003, Duff was one of the hottest properties in British football.

The Dublin winger had established himself in the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers and had lit up the 2002 World Cup with his performances for the Republic of Ireland.

Duff’s transfer options

When the time came to leave Ewood Park, Duff wasn’t short of options, with Man United, Liverpool and Chelsea all vying for his signature. The London club, newly-flush with Roman Abramovic’s billions, ended up landing the Irishman.

However, Duff has admitted that his first preference was a move to Man United, the club he supported growing up, or Liverpool, a club with deep Irish connections.

“It nearly happened with both,” Duff said about United and Liverpool on the Open Goal podcast with Si Ferry.

“I’m not sure what my get-out clause was with Blackburn, maybe £15m or £16m. I went for 17-point-something. It was maybe too much for them.

“Chelsea was never on my radar. Ideally, it would have been Man U or Liverpool – great clubs with Irish connections.”

Duff almost joined Man United

Duff even met with Man United manager to discuss moving to Old Trafford.

“I met Alex Ferguson and spoke to him. When you spend time with him and talk to him about football, you want to play for him. I think I just cost too much and they got better wingers than me in the end.

“We met in the kitman’s house. I think Fergie did all his business in Albert’s house. Albert picked me up at the airport and brought me there.

“I didn’t say a word for two or three hours, I was still a baby, 21 or 22, I just stared at him. I was probably dribbling as well. Ma made me wear a shirt and tie, as Irish mothers do. I was suited and booted. I looked like a dick, probably. That’s probably why he didn’t sign me. I was just dribbling looking at him.”

Damien Duff signs for Chelsea

Duff eventually agreed to sign for Chelsea in a deal worth £17m, a club record fee at the time.

Over the next three years, he played 125 times for the Blues, scoring 19 goals.

Duff was part of the team that won two Premier League titles under Jose Mourinho, who became Chelsea manager in 2004.

The former Fulham winger said he was hungover when the offer came to join Chelsea and he spent some time deliberating before deciding to join the club.

“Initially, when I got the message, I was dying of a hangover.”

“Most footballers in the four to six weeks over the summer, they’d always be dying of a hangover,” Duff said.

“Initially, when I got the message, I was dying of a hangover. Me with my heebie-jeebies, I don’t think I returned the call for two or three days, I just needed to sharpen up.

“I hummed and hawed over the move for a couple of weeks and flew down to London, two or three times. I met Claudio Ranieri once and I remember him saying that I’d play 99 per cent of the games. That always stuck out with me. I was always thinking about the one per cent. I wanted to play the one per cent as well.”

Duff on Roy Keane

In a wide-ranging interview, that covers all of Duff’s career, the Irishman speaks candidly about the conditions on Saipan ahead of the 2002 World Cup that contributed to Roy Keane’s Ireland exit. He also says most of the Irish players drank too much alcohol at the tournament.

Keane’s excellent passing ability was among the other topics Duff spoke about on the show.

“Roy was the king of absolute simplicity. He always played the right ball, with the right weight, the right side, the right angle.

“Roy was the cleanest, crispest passer of a ball I’ve ever seen. He always made the right decisions and that’s why he drove Manchester United for as long as he did.

“He would say it himself that he wasn’t one for Cruyff turns or stepovers but he was the best around for driving a team.”

Duff on the drinking culture at Chelsea

The Dubliner also touched on the drinking culture at Chelsea, where the core group of English players – John Terry, Frank Lampard and Wayne Bridge – had a peculiar nickname for their clique.

“Even when we were playing 60 or 70 games a season, we were out together on the town and pissed,” Duff told Si Ferry’s Open Goal podcast.

“That’s half the battle as well. It builds a good bond between everyone.

“The English lads, I never wanted to be part of them. They always called themselves ‘The Bulldogs’; it would have been Bridgy, Lamps, JT, a couple of the English physios. Eidur (Gudjohnsen) was involved in it. Because of the Irish thing (I thought), ‘I want to be part of your group but you’re not calling me a bulldog’.

“We’d be out all the time. A few of the foreign boys would flip in and flip out. They’d go out, not drink and feel good the next day. Whereas the British, Irish and Icelandic lads would go out and get absolutely lamped. This was every week. It was the norm.”

You can watch all of Duff’s interview below.

Originally published on July 16, 2020.

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