In Flashing Blade No.134, published in April 2012, there was an article titled “Players we ought to sign”, based on their performances against the Blades that season.
One of the names mentioned was Mark Duffy, then at Scunthorpe, about whom this was written: “Wasn’t particularly prominent when we played Scunny away, but he was excellent as they embarrassed United in the first half at the Lane, scoring a fine solo goal. Usually a right winger, he played more central at Bramall Lane, controlling the game with his touch and movement.”
Well, we eventually got him four years later, and we know how that one turned out. Duffy is the archetypal late bloomer. It is frequently reported that he played for Prescot Cables and Vauxhall Motors; there can’t be too many Championship players who turned out for two works teams before turning professional. In fact, full-time professionalism was still some way off. Two seasons at Southport followed, before someone up the coast at Morecambe spotted him. Duffy made his first appearance in the Football League in January 2009, when he was 23.
He then had two years at Scunthorpe, and one at Doncaster, who had just won promotion to the Championship. They went down but Duffy was one of their better players, making 39 appearances in the league. Birmingham City liked what they saw but after signing him hardly ever picked him, instead sending him out on loan to Chesterfield.
On loan again at Burton Albion in 2015/16, Duffy finally found a manager (Cloughie) who appreciated his talents. Promotion and selection to the PFA team of the year were his reward. Despite proving his worth, Birmingham did not offer him a new contract, which was weird, considering that the perceptive Gary Rowett was their manager. Their loss, our gain. The best player in League One last season, Duffy is now one of the better creative midfielders in the Championship. When he plays well, United play well.
So this is the best season of Duffy’s career, at the age of 32. But he’s a young 32. I don’t know whether there are any stats that bear this out, but there’s a theory that players who don’t go through the rigours of professional club youth systems tend to have longer careers. It’s said that playing part time and having to do a proper job gives them a sense of realism that pampered academy graduates do not have. I reckon Mark Duffy is one of these players and has at least a couple of seasons left in him yet.