Super Novo a reminder to Duffy about the value of discovery

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The Independent Football

Jim Duffy is the sort of person who never relinquishes his interest in the people who cross his path. Unemployed office staff and millionaire footballers have all benefited from the Dundee manager's sympathetic ear.

One of the first things he did last Wednesday morning was send John Terry a congratulatory message after Chelsea's Champions' League success against Barcelona. The man who unearthed Terry during his spell as youth coach at Stamford Bridge can only hope that one of his other discoveries does not come back to haunt him this afternoon. Nacho Novo has more than justified Duffy's faith in him this season. The striker's 23 goals could make him the top scorer in the Scottish Premier League - the only problem is that the beneficiaries have been Rangers.

Today, Novo returns to Dens Park with Duffy hoping that his protégé does not push Dundee closer to relegation. Novo has scored in each of his two encounters with Dundee since leaving for a paltry £450,000 last summer. To do so again would be a harsh way to repay the man who took a gamble on him three years ago.

The £100,000 that Duffy gave Raith Rovers for the tiny Spaniard was a drop in the ocean back in 2002. He had just taken over as manager at Dens Park, after a spell as assistant at Portsmouth, and Dundee were seemingly awash with money, judging by a payroll that carried around 20 foreign players. Within a year, Dundee imploded - debts of £20m were uncovered when the administrators came in.

Duffy was quickly forced to break up the team who had reached the 2003 Scottish Cup final against Rangers, as well as tell most of the club's staff that they were being made redundant, along with 30 players. "It was not something I would ever want to do again," Duffy reflects. "I just thought it would be better coming from me than some accountant that they had never seen before."

That financial situation left Dundee powerless to fend off predatory advances like the one for Novo, whose 20 goals in the SPL last term deserved a greater fee for the man who had polished him. "Nacho has become a far better player since going to Rangers," Duffy said. "You never know how some players will take to being on a bigger stage, but he has thrived."

Dundee have emerged from administration. The debt has been cut to just £7m but the club are infinitely weaker, which is why they have been sucked back into the relegation battle along with Living-ston, the other SPL club to embrace administration. The manager fears it will get worse unless Dundee can keep their top-flight status.

"I have 14 players out of contract at the end of the season and I don't expect many will stay," Duffy said. "A lot of those players are on contracts from the previous era, which are healthy wages compared with what I can offer now. It will not be compulsory, but it's still a financially motivated cull.

"Managers are judged on what happens on the pitch, but I also have a football club whose priority is to stay alive. We are not allowed by the bank to get into that sort of debt again."

Duffy's commitment to youngsters is every bit as deep as it was with Terry, whom he used to drive to training. Even though administration has cut the club's youth policy to the bone, Duffy still believes he can offer a route to the top. "We are still bringing young players through. They can no longer get great money at Dens Park, but if they develop, that will multiply. Nacho is a prime example. He increased his salary 10 times by moving to Rangers."