IN the first of a three-part series, David Dunn talks about his 10 seasons at Ewood Park, his England call-up, World Cup woe and being dubbed the new Paul Gascoigne.

TO be dubbed the ‘new Gazza’ by the nation is a big enough compliment in itself.

But when the flawed genius himself calls you it, you know you have really arrived in the footballing world.

This is exactly what happened to a young David Dunn during an explosive start to his Blackburn Rovers career and, while he never quite went on to make the same impression on the game as England sweetheart Paul Gascoigne, they were words that have lived with him forever.

The 30-year-old Blackburn Rovers midfielder has started his 10th season at Ewood Park, albeit with an injury-plagued three-year spell at Birmingham in between, and he remains the darling of the blue and white army after rolling back the years during a scintillating campaign last time round.

He has made almost 300 appearances for his hometown club since making his debut against Everton back in 1998, scoring 50 goals, and experienced relegation, promotion and Worthington Cup glory during the first spell of his Rovers’ love affair.

He said: “Those early years were great years, the best years in fact.

"The biggest compliment I have ever been paid was when Nick Barmby said to me once Gazza told him I was the nearest player to him.

“I don’t know whether he was just saying it but apparently Gazza has said that about me and I was well chuffed with that at the time.

“Of course Gazza was a hero of mine. I loved the way he played and I do wish I could have gone on to play for England as many times as he did. Sadly it just wasn’t to be.

“You can’t help get more confident when you hear things like that.

"Our manager at the time Graeme Souness was always complimenting me in the press as well and they were great days.”

Dunn’s single biggest regret though in a career he reflects on with immense satisfaction is never being able to add to his sole appearance for England, a second half substitute cameo against Portugal in September 2002.

It was easy to spot the similarities between ‘Gazza’ and ‘Dunny’ in full flow.

Both could explode past their man, both were capable of the unexpected and neither were shy of a few pranks. Sadly injuries prevented both from fulfilling their full potential.

His stunning form under Souness for Rovers in 2001 saw him named as standby for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea but, after not making the final cut, he was left to wonder what might have been.

“When you set off as a young lad it is always the dream to play for England.

"I was in the under 18s, under 21s and was on the standby for the World Cup,” he said. “I nearly went as well.

“I think I was next out there if Trevor Sinclair had not gone back out.

"I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get the call. It was great to play once but regrettably I didn’t get any more and missed out on other squads. That was it.

“That probably is one of my biggest regrets.

“I think it was a bit of everything really. There were times in my career where I probably didn’t do myself any favours.

"I would get told that from different people, like my grandad and the older players.

“Like I do to the younger lads now and they probably think ‘get off my case’.

"But I have had so many experiences myself in football, as have most of our senior players and I am just trying to do my best to make sure it doesn t happen to the young lads.

“I just wish I had known then what I know now, in terms of managing myself.

"There were times when I knew I wasn’t right. I knew I was in real danger of pulling something but I was that desperate to play football I would just go out and train and 20 minutes later I was in the treatment room.

“If I had stayed off it for one day I would probably have been fine.

"Maybe that was my problem and if I had been a bit less eager I might have avoided the injuries and played more for England.”

While Dunn’s Rovers debut came during the club’s Premier League relegation season in 1998, it wasn’t until Souness’s arrival as manager in March 2000 that his career really started to take off.

The former Premier League champions were struggling in their first season back out of the Premier League but just 14 months later, with Dunn as the driving force, Rovers regained their top flight status.

He finished their promotion campaign with 18 goals in all competitions, still his best tally to date, and followed that up the next season by helping the club win the Worthington Cup, beating Spurs 2-1 in the final.

The relationship between Souness and Dunn then started to sour though and in the summer of 2003 the unthinkable happened, he left ‘home’ for Birmingham City.

He said: “I do have great respect for Souey. Although the other managers gave me my debut and had faith in my ability there is no doubt it was Souey who really helped me on my way.

“It was only when he came that he really said I believe in him.

"He gave me the number eight shirt in his first full season and I think a few of the older lads fancied it but he said ‘no, Dunny is having it’.

“The press made a lot of the relationship between me and Souey but it wasn’t a big fall-out or anything. I just wanted to play football.

“I felt I deserved to be playing and I found myself getting left out.

"I wasn’t too happy and maybe he thought I was getting a bit too big for my boots.

“We had a successful time, it was probably the best I enjoyed.

"We got promoted, we won the Worthington Cup, and we qualified for Europe a couple of times. They were memorable days.”

Dunn’s £5.5million switch to the Midlands started off well as he scored the winner against Spurs on his debut but a series of injuries prevented him from ever making the impact expected.

He insists his time away helped him as a person but admitted, partly due to family reasons, he was desperate to return to Lancashire.

He initially looked set to go beyond enemy lines in his bid to secure a northern return, and even underwent a medical at Lancashire rivals Bolton.

But at the 11th hour Mark Hughes stepped in and brought Dunny home.

Dunn said: “Maybe I was a bit immature when I was younger.

"I think moving to Birmingham did me a lot of good outside of football.

"I had three and a half years there which started off so well.

“I just wanted to get back to the North West in the end and to get my career back on track.

"Blackburn were supposed to be interested but I was in a position where I wanted to get back up here as soon as I could.

“It was a couple of days before the transfer window closed.

"The whispers had been happening about Blackburn but nothing happened.

"Then I got the shout a bid had been accepted from Bolton.

“Sam Allardyce wanted to sign me so I was ready for it. I did all the medicals but it took four days.

"I had a feeling maybe some of the medical staff were doing too many things.

"It was thorough but it was like they were trying to find problems. I don’t know for what reason.

“I was really happy with the deal and I was ready to sign.

"But then at the 11th hour Blackburn came in and that was it. I was ready to come back to Blackburn.

“I phoned Sam Allardyce up, luckily. It was a hard thing to do at the time.

"I could have ignored it, but it was only right to tell him myself rather than let him find out by other means.

“Luckily I did that because a couple of years later he got the job at Blackburn and I'm not sure he would have been happy had I not made that phone call.”

TOMORROW>> How it all began for Dunny at Rovers – his debut and his memories as a fan.