Darius Vassell

Former Player Remembers: Darius Vassell

Darius Vassell was signed for Leicester City by former England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson in 2012 and the striker went on to make 45 appearances for the Foxes over two seasons.
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When Darius spoke to Club Historian, John Hutchinson, the Birmingham-born ex-striker discussed his career, which included playing for hometown club Aston Villa before heading to Premier League rivals Manchester City.

Later on his career, Vassell also joined Ankaragücü in the Turkish Süper Lig and finally moved to Leicester. He represented England Under-18s and Under-21s before winning 22 caps for his country at senior level.

He featured at the FIFA World Cup in 2002, included in the squad after a debut goal three months prior to the tournament starting and was also named in England's 2004 UEFA European Championship finals squad.

Darius supported Villa as a child and was thrilled when he got the opportunity to join their School of Excellence at the age of 10.

He explained: “If you put a youngster in the team he supports and he has bit of ability, he is in the perfect place. I had all the motivation I needed.

I used to play as a winger when I was younger but the coaches at youth team level changed me to be a striker.

Darius Vassell

“I was around all of the players that I supported. From there, I just loved being at the club. It all made sense. It was easy for me to get settled quickly at the club.

“As a youth team player for a couple of years, they train you every day and get to know you as a person. I got toughened up and it put me in good stead for when I got my contract.

“I couldn’t stop scoring at youth level. I got 39 goals in one season, which was a record apparently, but I couldn’t have done it without the team.

“I used to play as a winger when I was younger but the coaches at youth team level changed me to be a striker.”

On 23 August, 1998, Darius made his debut against Middlesbrough: “With me scoring all these goals, the Villa manager, John Gregory, gave me my first team chance.

“I remember being on the bench. When it was 1-1, I knew that there was a chance I might get on. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go on at that point, in case I made a mistake!

“But then we went a goal ahead and Gregory sent me on for the last 10 minutes. It was all that I wanted. It was perfect and the fans got to know me a bit.

“I don’t actually remember touching the ball, although I probably did. There’s nothing like playing for your hometown club.”

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Darius Vassell

Vassell scored a brace of goals against Strømsgodset in the UEFA Cup for Villa in 1998.

Over the next seven seasons, Darius made over 200 appearances for Villa.

He remembered: “I had a fairly decent career at Villa. If my career had ended on my debut in 1998, I would still be ecstatic about that debut.

“My first goal was three weeks later against Strømsgodset in the UEFA Cup. We were losing 2-1 and I came on for 10 minutes and scored two goals. We won 3-2.

“This let the fans know that I could score at that level. It was a good introduction. I was playing up front with Juan Pablo Ángel.

“I also remember when we played Manchester United at home and I managed to score. For me that was a big thing because United at that time were the main team.

“I always remember that game because it signalled to the fans that I could do it against the big teams. I went on from there and scored a few more goals.”                                                            

Darius made his England debut on 13 February, 2002 in a 1-1 draw against Holland.

“That was the biggest highlight,” he added. “To go to the England set-up and to be the only Villa player there was a great feeling. I felt special.

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Darius Vassell

Celebrating a stunning bicycle-kick against Holland on his England debut in 2002.

“Sometimes players get called up for England and then you don’t see them again in the England set-up but I kept myself there and thereabouts for a good period of time.

“I felt I did myself and my team proud. On my England debut against Holland, I scored with a bicycle-kick. A lot of people wouldn’t have been expecting that, me included!

“It kept me in Sven's thoughts for the World Cup Finals (in 2002) and the EURO Finals (in 2004).

“My main memory about those World Cup in South Korea and Japan was the heat! We were together as a team for a long period of time, about eight weeks in total.  

“We went to Dubai for a pre-tournament warm up. I got to know the big names and the big players and to see the other side of people when they are off the pitch.

“You are going shopping with people, playing golf, talking to people about their families, meeting people. You could write a book about that on its own without the football.”

England were eliminated by Brazil in the quarter-finals. Darius came on as a substitute, adding to his appearances earlier in the tournament against Sweden and Nigeria.

It was the right move for both sides at the time considering we couldn’t get a contract sorted out at Villa. I felt that in my first season at Manchester City I made an impression there.

Darius Vassell

His final England appearance was two years later, when England lost in a penalty shoot-out to the hosts Portugal in the EURO 2004 last-eight stage.

Darius’ penalty was saved by goalkeeper Ricardo, who seven seasons later was to become his Leicester City team-mate for eight games.

In July 2005, Darius signed for Manchester City for a fee of £2M.

He explained why he made the move: “The new Villa manager, David O’Leary, was used to signing big money players and he was looking to do that again at Villa.

“I was at the end of my contract. I wasn’t scoring a lot of goals. I got the opportunity to go to Manchester City and to play up front with Andy Cole, who was one of my favourite players.

“It was the right move for both sides at the time considering we couldn’t get a contract sorted out at Villa. I felt that in my first season at Manchester City I made an impression there.

“It was another step in my career which was very positive. A lot of people think that when Sven was appointed as Manchester City’s manager (in July 2007) it was all smiles for me.

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Darius Vassell

Vassell scored a total of 22 goals for Manchester City between 2005 and 2009.

“He had a lot of resources to get new players in, though, so I was fighting a battle every week to get into the team. This is character building for players.

“It lets the manager know what kind of player he can rely on. Sven got to know a different side of me there. I was no longer in the England set-up. I had to reinvent myself a little bit.

“Sven started playing me on the wing. We did well that season but again, unfortunately, Sven ended up leaving the club after a year and I had to do it all again for Mark Hughes when he came in.”

A year later, Darius moved to Turkey, signing for Ankaragücü in July 2009. Three-thousand fans greeted his arrival at the airport.

Looking back, he said: “I have always been loyal to the teams I sign for, wanting to do my best. This was my attitude at Manchester City but again, Hughes had a wealth of resources.

“He signed Robinho for £30M. I am a realist. A player signed for that money is probably going to play the majority of the games. My contract had run out so I decided to test myself abroad.

“Like all things in life, there were positives and negatives. I didn’t really get to think about football much because I was always in some office trying to work out dates and contracts.

Some of the players we had at Leicester like Andy King, a youngster at the Club, and Kasper Schmeichel when he came, were brilliant. It was a good move for me and for the Club.

Darius Vassell

“We are lucky over here in England and we don’t realise it. You get paid at the end of the month. Your taxes are all taken care of. Your medicals are all sorted out because there are doctors at the club.

“None of this was the case over there. The Turkish Football Federation handled it all for me, allowing me eventually to be able to sign for Leicester City in October 2010.”

This move reunited Darius with Eriksson: “Sven had rung me during the pre-season and, with his help and the help of the Leicester City staff, my registration was sorted so I could make the move.

“Leicester were brilliant with me. They looked after me. They got me sorted out. They got me back into a club. They got me training week in, week out with top quality players.

“I thought it was going to be a drop playing in the Championship because I was used to playing Premier League football but compared to the Süper Lig in Turkey, it wasn’t a drop in standard.

“Some of the players we had at Leicester like Andy King, a youngster at the Club, and Kasper Schmeichel when he came, were brilliant. It was a good move for me and for the Club.”

Darius had a good first season at Leicester but then got badly injured: “Sven departed in October 2011 and, a week after that, I did my cruciate ligament at West Ham.

“That injury takes six months to a year to heal and I only had six months left on my contract. Dave [Rennie], the physio, was absolutely brilliant with me.

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Darius Vassell

Darius added experience to Eriksson's Leicester side during the 2010/11 campaign.

“I got as fit as I possibly could be after six months and we gave it a go. I played in the last game of the season, coming off the bench, but I called it at day shortly after.

When Darius retired from playing, he enrolled onto a Sports Science degree at Loughborough University, coached at Wolverhampton Wanderers and embarked on his coaching badges.

He continued: “My daughter, Persia, takes up a lot of my time. I am busier now than I was when I was a footballer! There is also my book, ‘The Road to Persia’.

“I wrote it because my football career ended in a strange way really. I was half way through recovering from an injury. It wasn’t a normal way to come out of the game.

“So, I felt that a fitting end for me would be to write a book about my career. It seemed like the right thing to do.

“I felt that as my daughter wasn’t here when I was playing, it would be nice when she grows up to be able to read about what her father did in the game. I had to battle a lot of things on my own.

“I feel that a lot of parents will relate to it and so will people who are my age because it is coming from an era which was very different to how football is today.”

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