Damien Duff deserves credit for doing what some other famous ex-players haven't done
Duff is starting his managerial career a long way from the glitz of the Premier League.
In the summer of 2018, Harry Redknapp was busy using his wealth of connections in English football. Redknapp was not looking for a job for himself, but rather his nephew, Frank Lampard. The former Chelsea midfielder had a stellar career as a player, but he was a coaching novice. That didn't deter Harry, however.
First, he got him the manager's job at Ipswich Town. The ambitious Lampard, however, had concerns about the club's budget, according to Redknapp, and the deal never materialised. But Harry wasn't finished yet.
Best of luck, Duffer ☘️👍 https://t.co/Olh2hRZwNn
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) November 3, 2021
Championship side Derby County were also looking for a manager, and the Rams had been knocking on the door of the Premier League for several seasons. The club's owner received a phone call from Redknapp.
"Suddenly the Derby job became available, and I rung Mel Morris, he's got a house up the road from me," the former Spurs manager said. "He told me he was going to go for an experienced manager, I said, 'you keep getting managers and getting rid of them, you've not been very clever at picking managers. Take Frank Lampard'."
Lampard became Derby coach and within a year he was Chelsea manager. It was a meteoric rise for a coach with so little experience.
Damien Duff deserves credit for bucking the trend of famous ex-players who go into management.
It was difficult not to think of this anecdote this week as Damien Duff was appointed Shelbourne manager. Duff's path to his first managerial role in senior football, and the job itself, couldn't be more different than that of his former Chelsea teammate.
The Republic of Ireland legend should be commended for his decision to take the Shels job, regardless of how it plays out. He is also breaking the mould and bucking the recent trend of famous ex-players starting out in coaching.
Unlike many footballers Duff played against, he has started at a level that is a world away from the glitz of the Premier League, European football or the upper echelons of the Championship.
Lampard was sacked by Chelsea with the club in ninth place in the Premier League. A few months later, they won the Champions League under Thomas Tuchel. Andrea Pirlo had zero coaching experience before he became Juventus manager and it showed. He lasted one season.
Thierry Henry became AS Monaco manager in October 2018. The France legend was sacked three months later.
Gary Neville left Sky Sports mid-season to take over at Valencia in 2o15. The club were struggling and Neville couldn't speak Spanish. The former Man United defender has a legendary work ethic, but it couldn't compensate for his lack of experience in the role and he didn't see out the season. Neville has no intention of returning to the dugout.
As the experiences of these famous ex-players conveyed, elite-level coaching is not the place to learn on the job. Other than Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane, there are very few examples of famous ex-players excelling at elite clubs early in their coaching careers.
Usually, it doesn't work out and possibly prevents them from having successful coaching careers in the long run. They have not had the chance to develop their skills as a coach or even see if the job is right for them.
However, to be fair to these famous former players, it must have been difficult to turn down the respective offers they received to go into management.
Yet, this is all the more reason why Duff deserves credit for taking over at Shelbourne when more glamorous positions were surely offered to him since he retired. Duff has not attempted to speed up the process.
Shelbourne have just been promoted to the League of Ireland Premier Division. The Dublin side were the dominant team in Ireland in the early 2000s and almost reached the Champions League group stage in 2004, but despite their rich history, they have spent seven of the last eight seasons in the First Division.
It would be wrong to say that Duff is starting from the bottom in managerial terms, but Shelbourne isn't quite Derby County in 2018 with a reported wage bill of £46m.
Delighted to hear Damien Duff got the Shelbourne FC job. Always brilliant to see a man of his talents back in the game 🇮🇪 ☘️ pic.twitter.com/Nb1c3mK3DF
— Paul McGrath (@Paulmcgrath5) November 3, 2021
Duff's coaching career.
Duff is making his own path in coaching and doing it the hard way. The two-time Premier League winner finished his playing career with Shamrock Rovers in 2015 and became the club's under-15 coach and then Under-17s coach before he was promoted to first-team coach at the club.
In January 2019, Duff moved over to Celtic to become a reserve-team coach. A month later, Celtic manager Neil Lennon promoted the Dubliner to be a first-team coach. He helped the Glasgow side win two Scottish League titles before leaving to move back home to be closer to his family.
The former Blackburn Rovers star was highly rated at Celtic Park and he caught the eye of Stephen Kenny, who asked him to join his coaching staff with the Republic of Ireland. Duff stepped away from the role in January 2021.
The FAI's loss has become Shelbourne's gain and the League of Ireland will hopefully benefit too. As Brian Kerr said, Duff is the biggest name to take up a managerial position in Irish domestic football since John Giles returned to Dublin to become Shamrock Rovers manager in 1977.
Yet, Duff is not trading on his famous name, his successful playing career or his status as a legend of Irish sport. The 42-year-old is one of the most gifted athletes to have come from Ireland, but he knows more than most the value of hard work. He has spent the last year or so working as Shelbourne Under-17 manager and is not in it for the glamour. He even admitted he will lean on people with more knowledge of the League of Ireland than him next season.
Duff's humility, work ethic and willingness to learn will be of greater benefit to him as a manager than his famous playing career. He is also prepared to develop as a coach, rather than focus purely on constructing a career, something other famous former players would be wise to mirror.