Fergie-time is back and world football has clocked on to a breezy 18-year-old Irish lad on England’s south coast.
Forget that holding midfielders are in vogue, nothing fuels the sport’s imagination like the player who can put the ball in the onion sack. Again and again.
Brighton’s Evan Ferguson, who floored Newcastle United on Saturday, has that knack. In the Premier League, in particular, such an ability carries a currency like no other.
Alan Shearer, Harry Kane, Thierry Henry, Sergio Aguero, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Ruud van Nistelrooy, prize predators all, had it in spades.
While it’s too early to bracket Ferguson in that league, the Irish teenager is on the right track and couldn’t be in a better place ahead of the Euro qualifiers against France and Holland this week.
Evan Ferguson netted a hat-trick as Brighton comfortably defeated Newcastle on Saturday
The 18-year-old is one of the most promising young players in the Premier League right now
Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2024 already seem heavily reliant on the Brighton striker
After becoming the youngest non-English player to score 10 goals, it uncorked a torrent of tributes.
‘I don’t want to get carried away but I do see a hint of Haaland about him,’ said Gary Lineker on Match of the Day on Saturday night. ‘His stature and his movement and stuff like that. His youth, as well. He’s got it.’
Ian Wright, who also knows a top forward when he sees one, gave his approval too.
‘He’s got everything,’ added Wright. ‘Great movement, fantastic first touch, takes up great positions. He’s only going to get better.’
On talkSPORT on Saturday, former Irish targetman Tony Cascarino doffed his cap.
‘He’s one hell of a player. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up breaking the British transfer record fee.’
Former Brighton Under 18s coach, Mark Beard, who has also tipped Irish midfielder Andy Moran for great things, predicted before Saturday’s treble that Ferguson could go for more than £128m (€150m).
Brighton are no strangers to buying small and selling big, having banked vast sums for Moises Caicedo (£99.2m/€116m), Marc Cucurella (£55.9m/€65.3m), Ben White (£50.1m/€58.5m) and Alexis Mac Allister (£35.9m/€42m) in the past two summer transfer windows.
At some point, they will cash in on Ferguson, not 19 until next month. Under contract until 2028, they are in no rush to sell but when they do, there will be a stampede and Ferguson, at his rate of progression, will command a fee in excess of £85m (€100m). Manchester United, crying out for a striker, would appear a perfect match.
Whatever unfolds, it’s without question that Ferguson’s fee will smash the current Irish record held by Nathan Collins, and will lead to seven-figure windfalls for Bohemians, and St Kevin’s Boys too, for their part in nurturing his career.
His current strike rate is a Premier League goal every 115 minutes, which is better than every other striker bar Aguero, who scored every 108 minutes.
Better than Shearer, Kane and Co? Maybe. They are the conversations Ferguson could soon be part of if he maintains his goals-per-minutes ratio. After his media duties were over on Saturday, when he admitted what had happened ‘was hard to take in’, Ferguson returned to an ovation from his team-mates in the dressing room.
When Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi followed him in, he smacked hands with every player, moving on quickly. Ferguson was treated the same as everyone. There was no special treatment for the match-winner, which will help keep him grounded.
Football is awash with hard-luck stories of tyros who explode on the scene, flash across the skies and then vanish. Ferguson won’t fall into that trap.
Brighton CEO Paul Barber described him as ‘humble, with a strong work ethic’ and a ‘very, very, very decent person with really strong values from a good family.’
We’ve been here before with a teenage Irish striker at Brighton in the headlines for scoring feats in the Premier League against Champions League opponents.
Long before Ferguson took flight, Aaron Connolly famously surfed a wave in October 2019 and was thrust forward for a crucial Euro 2020 double-header, only to slip back into the shadows.
By coincidence, Connolly’s recall to the squad this week reflects his rehabilitation after a spell when he appeared lost and he deserves credit for getting his career back on track.
Gary Lineker was one of many to heap praise on Ferguson, likening him to Erling Haaland
The 18-year-old is the first elite striker Ireland have produced since the days of Robbie Keane
Ferguson is in a great place ahead of tough Euro 2024 qualifiers against France and Holland
As for Ferguson, he’s not the sort to be distracted, not with dad Barry and other sound heads around him. His goal is goals and where they may take him.
‘He can become big, big, big’ said De Zerbi.
How big? Tests against the elite defenders of France and Holland this week will give a further indication of that.
This Irish shooting star, the first since Robbie Keane, is definitely here to stay.