Football: Duff turns tide of Continental drift

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The Independent Online
When Roy Hodgson left Internazionale to take the helm at Blackburn Rovers, the arrival of the former Swiss national coach at Ewood Park was greeted with trepidation by more than a few of the players he inherited.

Hodgson may have had Croydon on his passport, but here was a man whose tastes in players, it was thought, were likely to match those of Ruud Gullit and Arsene Wenger as the Premiership continued its inexorable Continental drift.

Hence the inhabitants of Ewood Park braced itself for a rash of European imports and a sizeable clutch of already-resident players left to wonder where their next match was coming from.

That Hodgson has brought about nothing of the kind might explain his popularity in the Ewood Park dressing-room, not least with hitherto "unknowns" such as Saturday's two-goal matchwinner, 18-year-old Damien Duff.

In spite of a bright reputation and a fulsome endorsement from coach Tony Parkes, the Irish youngster was one of those who feared Hodgson might not even notice he was there.

"He'd never seen me play before taking over, so I did not know what to expect," Duff said. "But he has always included me in the first-team squad."

And just in case he has any doubts about Hodgson's faith in him, he can always get out his new five-year contract for reassurance - and a reminder that it pays never to be deflected from your goals.

Duff's elevation to the status of Premiership footballer might never have happened had he allowed his sporting progress to be dictated by his school in Dublin, which saw him more as a rugby full-back.