Didier Deschamps has won a World Cup with France as a player and as a manager — he knows a talented player when he sees one. He is not alone in his lofty opinion of what lies ahead for Evan Ferguson.
“He has so many attacking qualities and he is going to be a very efficient player who will get better,” Deschamps said before the Republic of Ireland’s 2-0 defeat in a European Championship qualifier in Paris in September.
Brighton & Hove Albion know the scale of Ferguson’s potential. The 19-year-old forward has scored 11 goals in 31 Premier League appearances for his club, at a rate of a goal every 141 minutes, plus three goals in eight games for his country.
He has been rewarded with another contract, just seven months after a revised deal that was due to run until June 2028. The latest long-term agreement gives Ferguson an extra year to June 2029.
There is no release clause in Ferguson’s new contract — Brighton do not like them. A mechanism that facilitated Alex Mac Allister’s move to Liverpool in the summer for a fee that could rise to £55million ($68.6m) with add-ons was an exceptional case.
There was no release clause in the contract signed by Moises Caicedo in January before the Ecuador midfielder’s British transfer record £115million switch to Chelsea during the summer transfer window.
The Ferguson deal has been negotiated with his camp without a price tag placed on his head. They appreciate that he is at the right club to continue his development, safe in the knowledge that if a bid is made by a suitor in the future that suits all parties, then Brighton would not stand in his way. The model encourages trust on both sides. Manchester United are among the many clubs that have been linked with an interest in Ferguson. He grew up supporting United after his grand-uncle Damien played for them.
Brighton’s eagerness and willingness to renegotiate so swiftly is not based solely on his playing ability. It is, in part, a reward for the manner in which Ferguson conducts himself with a maturity beyond his years. His wholesome characteristics and playing style as an adaptable No 9 evoke similarities with Harry Kane, a comparison that has been made by staff members at Brighton.
Roberto De Zerbi, Brighton’s head coach, was asked recently whether Ferguson plays like two other renowned forwards. “Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney were very important,” De Zerbi said. “I hope he can play in the same way. Berbatov and Rooney were different players, both were great players.
“Evan is different, he’s a real striker, a true striker. He has different characteristics to the other strikers we have here — Joao Pedro, Ansu Fati, Danny Welbeck. The improvement in him is clear, but he knows that very well because he’s a smart guy and he works hard. He works hard in training and I have no doubt he can become better and better, a great striker.”
This season, Ferguson has not reached the same performance levels of 2022-23, when he scored 10 goals in 25 matches in all competitions. Every player has bumps in the road and he has been hampered by minor injury problems.
A patellar tendon knee issue in September preceded a hat-trick in the 3-1 home win against Newcastle United, where he became the fourth 18-year-old in Premier League history to score three times in the same game.
Days after signing his contract this month, Ferguson was ruled out of the 1-1 home draw against Sheffield United by a back injury.
At that stage, Ferguson had scored three goals from outside the box, the most in this season’s Premier League. “Yes, because he’s top at shooting,” said De Zerbi. “When Evan shoots, left or right, it’s the same. He had a not very nice moment in physical condition but now I am watching better (from him). We need his goals, his qualities.”
Ferguson’s desire to learn and improve has been evident from his upbringing in the coastal village of Bettystown, just north of Dublin.
During his childhood, he would bang a ball against a wall to make his left foot better. His Premier League goals emphasise the variety of his talent — seven with his right foot, three with the left, one a header.
The back injury that sidelined Ferguson during the Sheffield United match did not prevent him from starting his country’s 1-0 defeat by the Netherlands in Amsterdam on Saturday in their latest European Championship qualifier.
Ferguson had an ice pack on a hamstring immediately after his withdrawal early in the second half. That was an unwelcome sight for Brighton but he later confirmed his wellbeing to a close associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect relationships. In any case, he is a long-term project at club and international level.
He will be central to the future for the next Republic of Ireland manager — Stephen Kenny is expected to depart following the failure to qualify for next summer’s Euro finals in Germany.
As for Brighton, De Zerbi stresses: “We can’t forget that he’s very young and a young player needs to improve with time. They need confidence, they need to play.
“He’s not complete yet as a player, as a striker. The improvement can be in his ball possession, his understanding of play, but we are lucky to have him.”
(Top photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images)