Dublin, a gentleman and a player, ready to bow out with style
He apologises for his time being slightly more limited than it would have been in his prime. A body that turns 39 on Tuesday week requires a rather longer preparation for training and matches than it did in the past, and that is even before he starts his warm-up routine.
You have this image of Norwich City's physiotherapists working on him like mechanics toiling lovingly over a veteran motor car. It also explains why the Championship's final game of the season will be his last, after more than 700 games and well over 200 goals. "That's why I'm not going to do another year," says Dion Dublin with a wry smile. "The Norwich fans have been absolutely superb to me. They, and the players, all wanted me to stay on, but these old legs can't take it."
If ever there was a player who can retire exuding consummate pride in what he has achieved it is the Leicester-born striker, and occasional centre-half, whose refusal to accept rejection at this same club 22 years ago after playing just four reserve games propelled him to a career which embraced, among others, Manchester United, Coventry City, Aston Villa and Celtic, before his return here in September 2006.
He had offered few clues of what was to follow when he was released by Norwich in 1988. "I never accepted I wouldn't make it, but also I never thought I'd make it to the top flight, and not to Manchester United," Dublin says. "I just thought, 'If I can get a career out of the game at any level, I'll be happy'. But I scored a few goals [73 in total for Cambridge, to be precise] and people noticed, and I was catapulted up." Those "people" significantly included Sir Alex Ferguson, who signed him for£1 million. Dublin stayed at Old Trafford for two years, but a broken leg brought a premature end to his time there.
"When my injury came along, they bought King Cantona – so there was no way back into the side. I had to hold my hands up and say, 'You're absolutely superb, Eric, you carry on, you do what you've got to do and I'll try and find work elsewhere'.
"Just think of it: Cantona, Mark Hughes, Brian McClair, Paul Scholes – and then it was Dion Dublin. To get into the side, I needed two or three to be playing useless or injured. I thought it was time to move on."
He departed, for Coventry next, as a championship-winning player. "I only played in seven games of the 1992-93 season, when United won the first Premier League title, before I broke my leg.
"But Sir Alex, being the manager he is, said, 'Listen, Dion, if you hadn't broken your leg, you'd have played in so many more games', and he had an extra memento, a miniature replica of the trophy, made for me, with my name on."
An English player could make that spectacular leap in class from the United of Cambridge to that of Manchester back then. Not now? "That's a great point," he agrees when we speak at Norwich's Colney training ground, where the Canaries were preparing for today's bi-seasonal dust-up with Ipswich. "For a player to go from what was, with due respect, a very small club to the biggest club in the world... well, I don't think that will ever happen again. The clubs these days need, and want, instant success. They think the way to do it is to buy ready-made quality."
There was some speculation that when Peter Grant departed Carrow Road early in the season, Dublin could be fast-tracked into management. He dismisses the notion. "Some people did put my name forward, but I was never going to go for the job. Of course, if they had offered it to me I'd have had to consider it carefully, but it never happened. Coaching or management is not something I'd go into through choice." His next career move is into the media. He will work for Sky, among others.
You can hardly accuse him of being demob-happy. His goal last Saturday helped win the points against Burnley and, in doing so, considerably eased Norwich's relegation concerns.
They adore him at Carrow Road. Even the home faithful at Ashton Gate applauded him off when he was substituted in Norwich's game there recently. "I feel, and hope, that people recognise I've gone about my business in the right way. But that was a nice surprise."
It would be an even bigger one if he receives a similar farewell at Portman Road today. But just maybe the home faithful will briefly cease hostilities to offer due appreciation to a fine ambassador of the game.
Life and Times
Born: 22 April 1969, Leicester.
Vital stats: 6ft 2in, 12st 4lb.
Early doors: Norwich City, 1985-88.
Club career: 1988-current, Cambridge Utd (187 appearances, 68 League goals – promoted and FA Cup quarter-finalists 1990, '91); Manchester Utd (16, 3); Coventry City (171, 72); Aston Villa (178, 57 – FA Cup finalists 2000); Millwall (5, 2); Leicester City (65, 6); Celtic (12, 2); Norwich (75, 16).
England: Four caps (1998).
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