In the ten years since Daryl Murphy signed for Sunderland, he has 74 goals in English football. Of those 74, 40 have come in the last two years, and 27 in last season alone. Since he passed his 30th birthday, Daryl Murphy has become a prolific goalscorer with a rate approaching one in two.
Murphy recently signed a new contract amid interest from clubs including Middlesborough and Cardiff, and despite his advancing years, being the Championship’s reigning top scorer still makes the Irishman a hot commodity.
Murphy’s sudden emergence as a feared striker took even the Ipswich faithful by surprise, Mick McCarthy showing trust in him as the team’s figurehead and drawing a level of performance from him that his previous managers could only dream of. Paul Jewell had taken to deploying him as a left winger, and Roy Keane – while enough of a fan of Murphy to bring him to Ipswich having managed him at Sunderland – failed to get him firing.
Murphy’s CV speaks of a man looking for a home. A youth spell at Southend, pro terms at Luton, but no breakthrough. Three years back at home town Waterford United in the Irish Premier League game him the springboard he needed to return to England with Sunderland. Five solid years, but again no breakthrough. Three separate long term loans at Ipswich, in 2010, 2012 and 2013, followed before finally signing permanently from Celtic.
The confines of sleepy Suffolk appear to be the surroundings that suit Murphy and all the pieces fell into place last season.
The late bloomer isn’t such a rare flower in football. There are some notable examples of players who joined the professional ranks relatively late – Ian Wright prime among them, almost 22 years old and playing non-league football when he signed for Crystal Palace. But those like Murphy, who have had long if undistinguished careers before suddenly burning with the white hot heat of stardom are rarer.
Consider two other possible examples, from very different backgrounds: Rickie Lambert and Luca Toni.
Lambert, very much Murphy’s contemporary at 33, has had three years in the Premier League – two with a modicum of success at Southampton, and one less so with Liverpool. Nevertheless, he is reaching the heights after the age of thirty, playing in the top division and being called into the national side. Where Lambert differes from Murphy is that he has always been a prolific goalscorer – League Two, League One, Championship, Premier League: he’s scored goals in every one, and absolute hatfuls outside the top tier. Lambert has been on an upward trajectory since at least the season he turned 25 whilst playing in League One with Bristol Rovers. No one place, or team, or league made Lambert a goalscorer, he found it within himself and those who saw him play at a lower level could see the progression he was on.
In Luca Toni, we perhaps have a closer comparison to Murphy, and a guide for how a career can progress. Toni was a journeyman player until he joined Palermo and suddenly a respectable 15 goal a season man was a 30 goal a season man. Where Toni has succeeded is in taking his form with him, to Fiorentina where he was top scorer in Serie A, then to Bayern, where he was top scorer in Bundesliga. Last season, at 38, he was top scorer in Serie A again, for Verona. What’s interesting is the period in between. Having fallen out of favour at Bayern, he found himself making occasional appearances for Bayern Munich II in the third tier of German football. Toni set out in search of whatever it was that made him great. Between leaving Bayern in 2009 and turning up at Verona in 2013, he played for five different clubs, four in Italy, before he stumbled on it again. With Verona the magic was the same as with Palermo – both were freshly promoted sides, and both were in need of that figurehead.
Signing a fresh contract at Ipswich was a sensible step for Murphy – he has found a combination that works for him. the temptation to return to the Premier League and try once again to prove yourself must be strong and difficult to resist, but the reality is that the environment must be right. Murphy has just found ‘it’. Lambert has had it for a while, but only recently has it worked in the top flight. Toni had it, took it with him, lost it, then found it again very late in the day.
Murphy might do well to stick where he is.
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