Meets: Damien Francis

James Marshment meets Damien Francis to discuss his time in the game, the injury that ended his career, and his new role as a football agent.

Last Updated: 21/07/13 at 13:44 Post Comment

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Former Wimbledon, Norwich, Wigan and Watford midfielder Francis enioyed 11 years at the top, before a cruciate knee ligament injury cruelly cut short his career at the age of 29.

Now a football agent, Damien had a chat with TEAMtalk Deputy Editor James Marshment to reflect on his time as a professional footballer, his solitary international cap for Jamaica, life after football, and what he thinks of his former clubs today....

JM: So Damien, your career started at Wimbledon. What was it like playing for the club you supported as a boy and what was the atmosphere like?

DF: It was an amazing club to be at, and the atmosphere was something else. It's what the club was built on. It was a special time of my career - probably the most special time I had - because I was playing for the club I supported as a boy.

JM:...And the famous 'Crazy Gang' spirit - was that still evident?

DF: Yeah, it ran right the way through the club - even to the youth team. It gave everyone associated with the team belief - a them-against-us mentality.

JM: It wasn't long after the club suffered relegation in 2000 that the team decided to 'relocate' to Milton Keynes. What were your feelings about that decision?

DF: It was a difficult time because it was my club that was being disintegrated. I was one of the players the club needed to sell on in order to bring in some funds. It was very difficult.

JM: Did the club lose their identity with the move?

DF: No, because Milton Keynes Dons are Milton Keynes Dons. The real Wimbledon are AFC Wimbledon. That's the way I see it. They're two different clubs. The identity remains.

JM: So, it's AFC Wimbledon whose results you look out for now?

DF: Most definitely.

JM: In 2003 you moved on to Norwich for a two-year spell earning promotion in your first year and suffering relegation the next. Is it fair to say your time there was a mixed bag?

DF: Yeah, I think so. We were actually really unfortunate not to stay up. We had a nightmare last game away to Fulham where we were hammered. But even in that game there was a chance we could have still stayed up. But I enjoyed my time there and think I played some good stuff, which is why I got the move to Wigan.

JM: And Norwich today. A well-run club? Can they call themselves an established Premier League club yet?

DF: Maybe in one more season. They've done very well so far. Chris Hughton is a fantastic coach and I'm really impressed with the job he's done there. There was a time last season where they had a bad run of results and people were thinking 'oh-oh, this might be it - relegation', but they turned it round and survived and that's down to the hard work of the manager and his players.

JM: You mentioned Chris Hughton there, who's one of the most respected managers in the game. But he's one of just a handful of black managers in professional football in this country. What do you think of the proposed Rooney Rule, and how do you think it will affect the game in this country?

DF: I certainly don't think introducing it will hurt and it can only be seen as a positive step. It's worked really well in America and there's no reason why it couldn't have a similar impact over here.

JM: Ricky van Wolfswinkel - how do you think he will do for Norwich?

DF: Time will tell. They've certainly paid big money for him and he comes with a big reputation, but I hope he does well.

JM: And Nathan Redmond?

DF: Yeah, he's a top talent - a really exciting winger. He's a very good acquisition for the club and his best years are still ahead of him.

JM: You then went on to play for Wigan. Did you enjoy your time at the club?

DF: They were exciting times because they were in the top flight for the first time in their history. The whole town was buzzing. It was another club that benefited from an amazing team spirit.

JM: And what about Wigan's FA Cup final win in May? Were you rooting for them against Manchester City?

DF: Absolutely. Wasn't everyone? They were the underdog and no-one fancied them. But they played really well on the day and fully deserved their win in the end.

JM: And looking ahead to the new season - do you think Owen Coyle can lead them back up at the first time of asking?

DF: I do. They're a really well run, financially-stable club I believe. They may need a few more additions to the squad.

JM:The club has been busy in the market already this summer. James Perch is one of their bigger signings this summer. A good deal for the club?

DF: It's a very good signing. He's got a lot of experience at the top level and is also very consistent. It's a good move for all parties.

JM:Now, I apologise in advance for the next question. There's a Stoke fan in the office [Mark Holmes] and he wants to know why you turned down a move to the club?

DF: (Laughs) It's true, it's true. While I was at Wimbledon I went up for talks. Everything was agreed over the phone. In principle I was a Stoke player. But when I went up for talks they changed a few of the terms, which I wasn't very happy about. I ended up leaving back home for London without having signed. I was on my way home when I got the call from Norwich, so I went to see them the next day. I liked it up there and they made me feel really welcome. I agreed terms really quickly and that was that!

JM: It was during your time at Norwich that you won a cap for Jamaica. Tell us about the game and how the call-up came about?

DF: The call-up came via a phone call to Norwich. They knew I was eligible and just asked if I fancied it. I knew straight away that I definitely was! The game was in Jamaica and against the USA. I started on the bench that day, but the memory of it will stay with me forever. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to have been to Jamaica will know what a beautiful country it is and the fans are just so passionate.

I got a few call-ups after that, but it never fell well as far as Norwich were concerned. So unfortunately I couldn't take them up on their offer.

JM: Club before country?

DF: Exactly.

JM: After Wigan, you then moved to then-Premier League new boys Watford, before your career was cut short by injury. What are your memories of that day?

DF: It was one of those weird ones where no one was around me. The pitch was a bit dodgy that day and I landed a bit weirdly on my knee. I tried to spring off on it and I felt it wobble. I knew straight away I'd done my ligaments, but I didn't know at the time just how bad it would be.

I went for a scan the next day and found out I'd done my cruciate knee ligaments.

JM: You spent the best part of 18 months trying to recover your fitness - when did you decide enough was enough and your career was over?

DF: It was a really frustrating and difficult time for me. I couldn't train and every time I tried my knee was blowing up all the time. I just knew I wasn't ever going to be at the same level as I had been. I had to make that call [to quit] after a chat with the surgeon

JM: Was it hard to adjust to life after football and were you prepared for it?

DF: You can never be prepared for it. I'd been playing football for every day of my life. And when all that is gone, it's really hard to adapt - especially when it's taken from you suddenly. Your body is used to playing; your mind is used to playing. Then's it gone. It was a really hard time.

My family were really supportive of me and they're the main reason I got through it.

JM: You're working as an agent now - how did that come about?

DF: I always wanted to stay in the game and it was something I was looking into for a long time.

To cut a long story short, I teamed up with Sky Andrew, who in my eyes is one of the most respected agents in the game.

I know the word 'agent' is often frowned upon, but I'm happy with the work I'm doing and to be teaming up with Sky.

Because I played the game for a number of years I can relate to the players I have to deal with. I hope I can help them in some way.

JM: So the transfer window is hotting up now. Are you keeping busy?

DF: Yeah, of course. It's my first window I'm dealing with as an agent and it's a real learning curve.

JM: Who have you got on your books? Anyone you can tell us about?

DF: (Laughs) No, not really. I'm working with kids really. I'm spending a lot of time in Europe, mainly in Belgium. I've got a few up-and-coming 15/16-year-olds....In time I'll be able to tell you a little more.

JM: And have you ever considered a career as a football manager?

DF: Yeah, I took my badges and have got my qualifications. But I don't really see myself as a manager or necessarily think it'd be the right move for me.

But I love the game and I respect the managers and coaches even more now I've seen what goes into their jobs.

JM: Thank you for talking with us Damien. Before you go, we have a quick-fire question round about your career in the game if that's OK.

First question - what's the best goal you've scored?

DF: That was for Norwich at home to Burnley. I went on a run and rifled one into the top corner

JM: Best stadium played in?

DF: I have two. For atmosphere it would be St James' Park, Newcastle. But I also love Arsenal's old ground, Highbury. That's where I made my debut for Wimbledon.

JM: Best player played with?

DF: That would be Trond Andersen, who I played with at Wimbledon. He maybe isn't the most famous of names, but he was a really top talent. We gelled well together in the Wimbledon midfield.

JM: Best player played against?

DF: Paul Scholes. He was absolute quality.

JM: Best manager played under?

DF: It's a really tough call, but probably Joe Kinnear. He gave me my debut.

JM: Biggest influence on your career?

DF: My mum. I have to say her really, don't I!

JM: Favourite memory of your career?

DF: Making my debut at Highbury as a 19-year-old.

JM: Most treasured football memento/medal?

DF: My Division One winners medal [won with Norwich in the 2003/04 season].

JM: Top three players in the Premier League today?

DF: Yaya Toure, Robin van Persie and... it's so hard, there's so many (!)... probably Frank Lampard.

JM: Top three players in the world today?

DF: That's a little easier. Messi, Ronaldo and Iniesta.

You can follow James on Twitter here.

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