Like most people with strong opinions, Mark Duffy has difficulty keeping them to himself.
So, after tackling issues ranging from the dangers of a party lifestyle to why young footballers should spend time working in the real world, it comes as no surprise to learn he is now seeking a wider audience.
“I’m taking my UEFA B badge in the summer and then I’ll see how it goes from there. It’s something that I’d like to do in the future, go into the coaching side of things. That aspect has always interested me and, if you’re interested in something, I think you’ve got more chance of doing well.”
First things first though and, before he begins organising training drills or bibs, balls and cones, the Sheffield United midfielder has a job to do against his former club Scunthorpe. Chris Wilder’s side visits Glanford Park tomorrow searching for its fifth straight win in League One competition after beating Peterborough last weekend. Despite his team’s dramatic upturn in fortune following a chequered start to the new season, United’s manager has spent the past six days insisting plenty of improvements can still be made. An approach Duffy, who made over 100 appearances for the north Lincolnshire club, can be taxing. But which, given the stakes and potential rewards on offer, makes perfect sense.
“You’ve got to be demanding,” he says. “We are at a huge club, we all want to get out of the league and the direction comes from the top. It can be mentally demanding at times, football isn’t just physical, it’s mental too. It’s a long season. Players will be good and then they’ll go off the boil. Sometimes, if things aren’t right off the pitch at home or whatever, it reflects on it. But we have to drive each other on.”
Duffy started his career as a youth team player with his hometown club Liverpool - “I’m a Red as well” - before joining Wrexham. But it was a spell in non-league, where he combined representing Vauxhall Motors, Prescot Cables and Southport with a job as a multi-sports coach, which shaped Duffy’s approach to the game. After joining United from Birmingham City earlier this summer, the 30-year-old spoke openly about how clubs should compel youngsters in their academies to experience a ‘proper job’ before graduating. Duffy accepts it would do little to improve their skills on the pitch but might make them appreciate the privileges of being a professional footballer more.
“I was working, have a quick bit of tea and then shoot down to training. It does toughen you up. You can get kicked from pillar to post at that level but I firmly believe it’s made me a better player.
“A lot of English players get distracted easily. Maybe the nightlife after a Saturday night game isn’t the best thing if you’ve got a match on a Tuesday. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done it. But I look back and think ‘how did I do that?’ But you learn as you get older.”
Duffy, who joined Scunthorpe in 2011 following a 23 month spell at Morecambe, is now passing on his experience to members of United’s next generation.
“I drive into training with Jack O’Connell, Doney (Matt Done) and young Ben Whiteman,” he explains. “Jack and Ben are two young lads so Matt and I try and pass on a few good words. It’s probably the longest car journey of their lives. Seriously, though, they are two great young pro’s. Jack is an absolute beast in training and, if anything, the most advice we give him is to chill out.”
Despite his blue collar approach, Duffy is also a keen student of the game. “I love watching football and learning about different methods and ideas.” United’s decision to switch formations, from a traditional 4-4-2 to the 3-5-2 model favoured by the likes of Juventus and Ajax, has helped him reproduce the type of performances which saw him named in the PFA’s divisional team of the year during a spell on loan at Burton Albion last year.
“I’ve been more of a ‘number 10’ recently,” Duffy says. “Burton played me there and I enjoy it. You have a freedom to go around the pitch, get on the ball and dominate it. But you also have a responsibility to stop their midfield from playing. It’s quite a flexible formation but you’ve also got a responsibility to stop their midfield from playing.”
“You have to think your way through a game, you are not just an attacker. At Gillingham recently (where United won 2-1), one of their strengths was their holding midfielder, who likes to dominate the ball. The gaffer wanted me to get to him and make sure he didn’t have time on the ball. That’s one of the main tactics of my game, so he doesn’t have the time and space to hurt us.”
As Duffy admits, a happy player off the pitch is more likely to perform on it. And, as his recent displays demonstrate, Duffy is in a good place right now.
“I knew a few of the players before I came in,” he reveals. “I’m old enough and have played at this level before. It’s important that you integrate with them all and that’s something that’s really good here. The sense of togetherness and the strength of the group. Hopefully that shows.”