Before this season began, if you would have asked Fulham fans about their feelings on Damien Duff, while they would not be critical, they would certainly not be clamouring for his continual involvement in the first team.
A fine player Duff certainly has been, particularly in the Roy Hodgson era when he was part of a Fulham side that so brilliantly reached the Europa League final, only to bravely lose out to Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguero and Atletico Madrid. However, now at the age of 33 and with the talents of Bryan Ruiz, Kerim Frei, Alex Kacaniklic and at the time, Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele, Duff’s time in the Fulham side was perhaps petering towards an end.
However, following the latter two’s departures, Ruiz’s continued struggles and Frei’s inability to overcome his injury problems and break into the first team, the former Republic of Ireland international has found himself starting eight out of the club’s nine Premier League games and he has rewarded Martin Jol with three goals, already half his tally for the whole of last season.
His goals against Norwich, Manchester United and Wigan may have grabbed the headlines, but it is his all-round performances which have really enthused both the Fulham supporters, where he is now a real fans’ favourite, and manager Martin Jol.
For a few years, Duff would possibly be the first to admit that he had failed to truly adapt to the loss of his once blistering pace that helped tear defences to pieces at both Blackburn and then Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, in tandem with Arjen Robben on the opposite flank. In those days, Duff’s game would be very much based on beating the full-back and either going for goal or sending in a flashing, dangerous delivery.
As that explosiveness declined somewhat, Duff appeared unwilling to renegotiate, instead attempting to continue his movements in the same manner. However, towards the end of last season and certainly at the beginning of this, Duff has begun to appreciate the other sides of his game that he had hitherto ignored.
For instance, his intelligence both on and off the ball in terms of where to be – as shown by the way he has finished his chances this term – his already good technical ability which he has clearly honed to the extent that he is now comfortable on either foot, and his passing ability, which has now become calm and measured.
Of course, Duff is not completely devoid of speed and if needs be can muster the energy to run beyond players, but he has become intelligent in the way he uses what speed he has left. Gone are the blistering Duff runs after 10 minutes that had him tired out by the interval, replaced by a more measured approach that has aided his rejuvenation.
Duff will always lack the finesse that the likes of Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov possess, but in terms of his sheer commitment to the cause, allied to his mightily impressive ability, the Irishman will remain a vital part of Martin Jol’s squad.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Fulham