EVAN FERGUSON meets CHRIS SUTTON: This shy Irish kid is now football’s most explosive teenager but could have been a postie… He supported Man United but won’t let their interest distract him
- Irish striker Evan Ferguson is the hottest teenage prospect in the Premier League
- Ferguson has extended his contract with Brighton until the summer of 2029
- What is the WORST Premier League hat-trick? – Find out on It’s All Coming Up
You might think the wonderkid wrecking the egos of Premier League defenders would have an overinflated amour-propre of his own. You would be wrong. As Chris Sutton discovered this week, Evan Ferguson is as down to earth as the Crocs he wears on his feet.
An afternoon spent at Brighton’s training ground in Lancing taught Mail Sport’s columnist there is nothing egotistical about this 19-year-old striker from the seaside village of Bettystown in the Republic of Ireland. Nothing flash. Nothing obnoxious. Just a nice, normal, laid-back lad who is taking his rise towards stardom in his stride.
A sizeable stride he has, too. At 6ft 2in with long limbs and broad shoulders, Ferguson is a colossus you could take a walk around and certainly not someone you would wish to mark on a football field. A few defenders have tried to their demise, with Ferguson the first teenager since Wayne Rooney in 2005 to score at least 10 Premier League goals in a calendar year.
Many believe the ambipedal Ferguson is Brighton’s next £100million man in waiting but he is in no rush to prove those predictions right, as evidenced by Friday’s news. At 10am, his club announced his new contract until 2029, providing added protection amid increasing interest from Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and more.
‘I’m happy here,’ the softly-spoken striker tells Sutton in his Irish drawl. ‘I played Gaelic. Nothing serious. Just in school. Irish sport. Rougher than football. But this is all I ever wanted to do growing up. I came over here at 16 and this is all I’ve known. They gave me my first opportunity and I’m grateful for that. I’ve signed this new deal and it’s all good news. You see it as a reward for what you’ve done, and it’s loyalty to them, you know?’
Mail Sport columnist Chris Sutton spent time with Brighton striker Evan Ferguson this week
Ferguson, 19, is the most explosive teenage prospect in football and is enjoying a fine season
The Irishman has committed his future to the Seagulls by extending his contract until 2029
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Sutton: ‘I remember when I was your age. I’d made my debut for Norwich and to put it mildly, I was full of s***. I was very cocky and sure of myself. But you don’t strike me as that type.’
Ferguson: ‘I’m laid-back as a person, relaxed, nothing too much.’ Sutton: ‘You must have that nasty streak in you, though?’
Ferguson: ‘Definitely. People in football will tell you, “He’s a nice bloke off the pitch but on the pitch…” It’s like two different personalities. We’re just sitting here talking but on the pitch, well, you know what it’s like.’
Listening to Ferguson, you get the sense that if he was any more laid-back, he’d be horizontal. Here, though, the lad that many with Irish accents are describing as a generational talent is sitting upright in his Brighton tracksuit across from Sutton.
His journey to here began with St Kevin’s Boys Football Club, the prestigious talent factory in Dublin that was responsible for producing future international footballers such as Liam Brady, Damian Duff, Ian Harte, Robbie Brady and, of course, Ferguson. He led the line for St Kevin’s in the 2017 Academy Cup final against Barcelona. ‘I scored twice and we still lost,’ he recalls. ‘Bloody defenders,’ replies Sutton.
From there, Ferguson moved to Dublin’s oldest football club Bohemians. He was 14 – yes, 14 – when he made his senior debut in a pre-season friendly against Chelsea in July 2019. Footage shows this Colaiste na hInse schoolboy troubling Trevor Chalobah, tackling Kurt Zouma, skinning Tiemoue Bakayoko, and deploying a clever dummy as his team made it 1-1 to deny Frank Lampard the win in his first game in charge.
Sutton asks: ‘I would have been s***ting myself. Were you nervous?’ Ferguson offers a shrug: ‘Nah, not really. I wouldn’t say I get nerves.’
Sutton: ‘Never? Not even now?’ Ferguson: ‘I don’t think so. If someone says, “Oh, a 14-year-old is playing against Chelsea”, what do you expect him to do? At that age, it doesn’t click. You don’t comprehend in your head what you’ve done. It’s only now, looking back on it and seeing my cousins who are 13, 14, that I know it was madness.’
Pick any of the Premier League’s big six clubs and Ferguson has been linked with them in the last year, though he is used to the noise by now. ‘I think so, because I had it so early on at 14,’ he says. ‘You see it all on social media when someone else is being talked about. But that was the first time it happened to me, when I was suddenly the one everyone was talking about. School was a weird one after that.’
Ferguson hails from a good family steeped in football heritage. His great-uncle, Damien, was on the books of Manchester United and can be seen posing alongside George Best, Sir Bobby Charlton, Nobby Stiles and Denis Law, as well as manager Sir Matt Busby, in a team picture from 1970-71. His sister, Ellie, plays for Ohio Soccer in the United States. His father, Barry, was a defender for various teams in England and Ireland.
When Premier League clubs started showing their interest in this potential prodigy at Bohemians, Barry told his son it was his call to make and no one else’s. Flattered though he was by the talk of Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United wanting him, Ferguson chose Brighton. His decision was based on a steely determination to break into his next club’s first team as soon as possible.
Ferguson: ‘I remember my da saying, “They’ve offered a deal. What do you think?” I’d been over here enough times to know that if they offered me something, I’d like to sign. I had that in my head. It was the feeling I had when I came over here. The feeling, the people, there were Irish over here and they have a wall in the canteen that shows all the debutants and their ages. When you’re sitting there and seeing people who got the opportunity to play in the Premier League, it’s like, “Right, this isn’t unrealistic here. It’s doable.” They had a pathway.’
Ferguson is the first teenager since Wayne Rooney in 2005 to score at least 10 Premier League goals in a calendar year and has netted 15 times in 41 appearances for Brighton in total
Ferguson (pictured in 2021) made his senior debut for Irish side Bohemians aged 14 against Chelsea and moved to Brighton two years later after rejecting the overtures of several clubs
Sutton: ‘My dad, Mike, was a professional footballer as well and he was tough, forever pushing me to practise with my weaker foot. Of your 11 Premier League goals, you’ve scored seven with your right, three with your left, and one with your head. Did that come naturally to you?’
Ferguson: ‘I wouldn’t say it’s natural. I’ve worked for it. As a kid, I’d bang the ball against the wall to sort my left foot. I’d try to shoot with the left the same as the right. That’s been on me to practise.’
Sutton: ‘That wasn’t down to your dad pushing you?’
Ferguson: ‘He’s been a big influence. If I ever needed to talk to him, he’d know what to say. But he wouldn’t be straight on the phone, saying, “You should have done this, should have done that”.’
Ferguson was slightly late for this interview after being summoned to a post-training meeting with Roberto De Zerbi in the manager’s office. The 44-year-old Italian adores Ferguson, previously predicting he can become ‘the top scorer in Europe’.
Sutton asks for a description of De Zerbi. ‘In one word, I’d say “perfectionist”,’ Ferguson says. ‘That’s how he is with everything, even in the smallest details as in your body shape. He wants everything to be perfect.
‘This is still new for us, with being in Europe. There’s always another game. It’s all go, all full on, all the time, but we’re enjoying it. We want to finish as high as we can and go as far as we can in every show. We had the FA Cup semi-final last season. Now we want to go one further by getting to the final. Expectations are high but that’s what we set upon ourselves.’
Sutton: ‘I wrote a column for the Daily Mail not so long ago in which I compared you to my old strike partner Alan Shearer. It’s the natural feel to your finishing, your physicality, your positioning, your power. Alan has even said he sees himself in you, the way you can bully defenders without fear.’
Ferguson smiles sheepishly. ‘He knows a thing or two about scoring goals,’ he responds. ‘It’s a privilege hearing that.’
Ferguson is the Republic of Ireland’s next big hope, but insisted he doesn’t get nervous
His finishing, physicality, positioning and power have seen him compared to Alan Shearer
The 19-year-old is humble and down to earth and finds cooking and cleaning therapeutic
Though Ferguson was eligible for England through his mother, Sarah – and his holding of a British passport enabled him to sign for Brighton at 16 despite FIFA’s post-Brexit rules which restricts others from doing so until they are 18 – there was never any chance of him following Declan Rice in defecting from the Republic of Ireland. He only ever wanted to wear green, with Sutton asking if he feels there is pressure on him to perform for a country whose last major tournament was Euro 2016. ‘There is, to a certain extent,’ Ferguson says. ‘You can see where the fans are coming from. When you see someone come to England and do well, they expect you to go back to Ireland and produce the same. There is a little. But I wouldn’t say it affects me.’
The Irish football scene has turned into a thriving hotspot of talent for Brighton. Their knack for discovering starlets is no secret. Neither is their acceptance that every player has his price. If and when they sell Ferguson, Sutton suspects he will rival the record £115m that Chelsea spent on Moises Caicedo in the summer.
Leroy McCourt – the brother of former Celtic winger Paddy McCourt who was also known as the ‘Derry Pele’ – is the club’s dedicated scout surveying the Irish football scene and they have built a network of contacts over time that is the envy of their English rivals. Brighton insiders hope the next in line is Andy Moran, the 20-year-old midfielder currently on loan in the Championship with Blackburn.
Ferguson was never loaned elsewhere, a Premier League goal as a substitute against Arsenal on December 31, 2022, convincing Brighton to keep him in the January 2023 window. More minutes followed in the top flight after that appearance, including his first start in which he scored and assisted at Everton three days later.
It helps that Ferguson has a sensible head on his shoulders. Not many teenagers will admit they find cooking and cleaning therapeutic with the 19-year-old currently single and living alone. You are unlikely to see Ferguson mucking around with too many commercial duties, flogging this product or that. For now, his focus is firmly on playing football.
There is not only one singular striker that Ferguson idolises. It is his goal to extract a trait from every goalscorer he grew up admiring, from Rooney to Karim Benzema and Dimitar Berbatov to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Despite his frame, Ferguson is not an old-fashioned centre forward. He is very much a modern-day front man, dropping deep as a false nine like a certain England striker he has also studied.
‘You look at one thing that, say, Harry Kane, does, like the way he has such a quick touch and finish,’ he says. ‘You look at their different characteristics and see what suits you. I supported (Manchester) United as a boy. You had the Rooneys, the Berbatovs and obviously Danny Welbeck. They’ve always had a good thing going with the striker.’
Ferguson claimed Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi is a ‘perfectionist’ with very high standards
Ferguson also revealed that Danny Welbeck (right) is more of a mentor than a rival for him
Welbeck is now his competition for a starting spot under De Zerbi, though the 32-year-old Englishman is more of a mentor than a rival. ‘As soon as I came in, he took me under his wing,’ says Ferguson as he looks to add to his tally tomorrow, having done his homework on Wes Foderingham to know which style of shots the Sheffield United goalkeeper is least likely to save. ‘I’m not a big target-setter. Every game you go into, you’re going to have a chance to score. But once you’re off the mark, you’re always wondering how many more you can get.’
Ferguson has not let the fact he is now a fully-fledged Premier League player change who he is. Nor will he. Pomposity is not his style.
He finishes by telling Sutton that if football had not worked out, he wanted to become a postman. ‘Start at six, finish at one, that’s you done,’ he adds, smiling at the simpler life he will never know.
The postal service’s loss has been the Premier League’s gain and either way, he is delivering.
Words by Kieran Gill
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