Damien Duff: Alex Ferguson spoke to me about Man United but we couldn't agree fee
Damien Duff revealed for the first time yesterday how close he came to joining Manchester United, outlining that he spoke to Alex Ferguson in the aftermath of the 2002 World Cup about a switch to Old Trafford, before renewing acquaintances a year later.
While he remains unaware of the full reasons why the move didn't take place, it seems clear that Chelsea's willingness to meet Blackburn Rovers' £17m asking fee was the key factor behind his move from Ewood Park to Stamford Bridge rather than to United in July 2003.
At the time, Damien became Chelsea's record signing, and in three years with the London club, he won the Premier League on two occasions. Only one Irishman, John O'Shea, has lifted the trophy since.
And Duff, it is now clear, was attracted by the prospect of joining O'Shea in Manchester.
"I spoke to them a few times," Duff said. "I wanted it to happen but the fee back then was for £17m. I don't know what the equivalent fee is now - but in 2003, that was a massive deal. Alex Ferguson spoke with me the summer I left for Chelsea (in 2003) and also the summer before, after the World Cup.
"What happened was this. Roman Abramovich had bought Chelsea that summer. They had the money. The deal was done. I thought about it for a week and when I saw the squad they were building, I just knew I had to go there to further my career."
He certainly did that. In three years at Stamford Bridge, Duff won three trophies, and featured in 40 games - albeit 13 as a sub - in the season before he left Chelsea for Newcastle United. That summer, he had alternative offers from Chelsea, who wanted to give him a two-year contract extension, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.
Damien, however, is an old-fashioned player in a modern world. He refused to join Spurs because they were Chelsea's rivals. Rafa Benitez, meanwhile, clearly didn't do a good enough job selling Liverpool to him.
"I sat down with Jose Mourinho," Damien said. "They were offering me another two or three years but the way that season finished, I wasn't at my sharpest, and while I was still playing, for the last 15 games of the season, I was in the stand for about five games and sub for another five matches.
"That summer, Chelsea signed Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko and it seemed as if they were going to change to a diamond formation. We had four wide players at the time - Arjen Robben, Joe Cole and Shaun Wright Phillips being the others. I was bottom of the list. Plus we had Claude Makelele and Frank Lampard. Ballack was going to play, no question and I didn't think he'd play wingers.
"The stubborn Irishman in me stopped me from staying and fighting for my place. I just wanted to go and be an exciting winger up at Newcastle. I know they weren't winning trophies at the time but when that place is rocking, I pictured myself being the main man for them. I spoke to Jose. He said, 'If you're fit, you'll play in my team'.
"But I wanted to go somewhere that liked exciting players and wanted to deliver for them. I didn't. So for an outsider, they might think I made a mistake.
"But people who know me, know I am a simple guy. I couldn't go to Spurs, because when I play for a team - I become a fan of that club. Spurs were Chelsea's rivals. I couldn't join them for that simple reason, even though they were a good team. That was me being too loyal. I also spoke to Liverpool. Benitez was manager at the time. It didn't feel right.
"It just didn't go for well for me at Newcastle. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get going."