Curtis Davies has got a lot on. He has missed only seven minutes of league football for Derby since his summer move from Hull City – recently completing 11 matches inside 44 days – to help guide them to second in the Championship.
He is also father to a baby daughter, the director of a clothing brand and a student at university, where he is training to become a journalist. A trip to Manchester United in the FA Cup on January 5 was just another thing to add to the list.
Davies speaks articulately and with authority. It was Old Trafford where he was made West Brom’s second youngest captain in their history at the age of 20. Since then he has captained Hull City in an FA Cup final and has become a key leader in the Derby dressing room and defense, alongside Richard Keogh.
“I’ve always been vocal,” Davies says. “It’s about managing people, certain people can take a hammering, others need an arm around [the shoulder]. I’m good in the dressing room. Bryan Robson was the main person to spot that in me when I was young. When a former England and Manchester United captain made me skipper, I never looked back.”
At the age of 32, Davies is no stranger to big games, the biggest of which came in 2014 in the FA Cup final, in which he scored Hull’s second goal. “It was bittersweet. Arsenal had beaten us easily 3-0 at home three weeks before in the league. We were the underdogs, so when we went 1-0 up, we were in dreamland. Then I scored: 2-0. Obviously being captain, you start to think about climbing the stairs and lifting that trophy.
“We ended up losing and I was going round lifting people’s heads off the floor but as I’ve looked to see Arsenal lifting the trophy, that’s when I turned into a blubbering wreck. I started crying my eyes out.”
The FA Cup also holds painful memories from last year. Marco Silva had just replaced Mike Phelan as the Hull manager and while Davies was eager to impress, he was injured for much of January. “I was rushed back a bit too quick for an FA Cup game in January against Fulham,” Davies says. “I did my hamstring after eight minutes and then missed eight weeks of football. I lost my place and I wasn’t able to help against relegation. That was the biggest disappointment for me.
“I hadn’t trained for that match and had been with the physios all week. But when a new manager comes to you and asks you to be in the squad, I decided to travel. But when the team was called out in the morning, I was in the starting XI. You have to play politics sometimes in football.”
Two days after the injury, Silva signed Andrea Ranocchia on loan from Internazionale and Davies would play only four more times for Hull, who were relegated in May with a game still to play, after a 4-0 defeat at Crystal Palace. He has no hard feelings and is surprised by Watford’s recent slump under Silva.
“He is meticulous on the training ground,” Davies says. “He would go through a throw-in 20 times until it was right. Everyone knew their own jobs and other people’s jobs as well. Even if I went to play left wing I’d know exactly what was required. That way, there was accountability for every error.”
Coaching is an option when he retires but, although Davies says he plans on getting his badges, he does seem to have reservations about the potential opportunities for black, Asian and minority ethnic managers. “In football, it’s better to be a good mate than a good coach sometimes. Not many people are talking about the elephant in the room, particularly current players,” Davies says. “I understand a lot of the things [former Hull City team-mate] Liam Rosenior has been writing about the Rooney rule [and BAME coaches]. I know he’s keen to become a manager and a coach himself.”
Davies, then, is also looking at other options, and has enrolled on a sports writing and broadcasting course at Staffordshire University. “I’m only in the first semester. I’ve actually got a deadline in a couple of weeks, my next essay is on ‘proactive v reactive PR in sport’. I’ve done all my rough notes, I just need to structure it, otherwise it will look like a mess.”
For the moment, though, the priority remains playing the game. Davies has been included in England squads but never capped and accepts that call will probably never come again, although he is eligible to play for Sierra Leone.
“I’ve thought about representing my dad’s country but the timing was wrong,” Davies says. “The team was banned from traveling to certain games because of Ebola. I remember there was a game against Seychelles that was canceled a few years ago. There were fears anybody – a kit man or bus driver – could have passed on the disease. I would like to represent Sierra Leone before I retire but I don’t want to put my club career on the line – even if I went to the Africa Cup of Nations, I could lose my place at Derby.”
With Davies at the back, only Wolves have conceded fewer than Derby in the Championship this season. County are on the up, but their loss 2-0 to Manchester United in the FA Cup on Friday has dampened their spirits.
The Guardian Sport