Evan Ferguson – Ireland’s future number 9? by Ryan Kilbane

Evan Ferguson – Ireland’s future number 9?

Ryan Kilbane @ryankilbane1

For 15 years the Republic Of Ireland never had to worry about goals. In Robbie Keane, they possessed one of the top international scorers of all time. The Dubliner’s 68 goals are more than Luis Suárez, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba.

Since his retirement, a combination of successive conservative managers and a lack of individual talent meant attacking metrics dwindled.

While current manager Stephen Kenny has increased the number of goals scored through a more sophisticated tactical approach, the Boys in Green are still lacking a ‘star’ forward.

In the 2019/20 Premier League season four Irish forwards made their debuts. Troy Parrot (17 at the time) Michael Obafemi, Aaron Connolly (both 19) and Adam Idah (18). It finally felt like the start of a new era. Almost two years on and the four are still finding their feet in truth. They could all end up having excellent international careers but Irelands biggest prospect may be coming behind them.

Brighton’s Evan Ferguson has been on many peoples radar since he played for Bohemians FC against Chelsea as a 14-year-old in July 2019. Now, just barely 17 he’s already establishing himself within Graham Potter’s first team.

A 14-year-old Ferguson outmuscling Kurt Zouma in 2019:

The Co.Meath native made his senior debut in an FA Cup tie against West Brom recently and assisted Jakub Moder for Brighton’s first goal. He had the ball in the net himself in extra time but the referee ruled it out for offside.

Ferguson has been rewarded for his good form the club’s U23 team. This season he has 8 goals in 827 minutes in Premier League 2 and even scored against Northampton Town’s senior side in the EFL Trophy.

Standing at just over 6ft since his mid-teens Ferguson’s physical attributes are often considered his best, while they are impressive there’s a lot more to his game.

Interestingly, Ferguson doesn’t solely rely on these qualities to create chances and get shots off. Instead, he combines them with clever movement and good footwork. He also seems equally comfortable with his back to goal and running in behind.

His heat map from this season backs that up, while he is a centre forward he does drop deep to get the ball and occasionally stretch defences.

In a recent interview, Potter told Sussex Live: “I’ve been really impressed with him in training, he’s got really good movement.

“You can see his qualities and his goals, they’re not by accident, that’s for sure. He knows where to be in the box and around the defenders.

Days later Ferguson himself spoke about the same topic “I feel good when I am training with the boys, it’s helping build my confidence and my game up they are used to it every week in the Premier League. With strikers like Neal Maupay, Danny Welbeck and Leandro Trossard, you get to see different types of movement and learn from it.

And it’s working, along with his 8 goals he is getting off 2.23 shots per 90 in PL2 Division 1 and 0.7 goals per 90.

A quick look at some clips and you can see the varied nature of his goals and shots.

Here he shows a good first touch, outmuscles the opponent (28-year-old Sam Hoskins) before curling the ball into the far corner.

His most recent U23 goal against Everton shows him picking the ball up in a deeper position, using intricate footwork to beat a defender and scoring from 25 yards.

Against Blackburn, he starts the move deep with his back to goal. Supports the counter-attack, then beats a defender and calmly slots home.

And in August against Derby, he show good movement staying on the defender’s blindside before moving towards the back post and heading in.

Ferguson was 16 for all of the above clips.

On his FA Cup debut recently, he was unlucky not to score. As mentioned previously he had the ball in the net but it was disallowed. Prior to that, he showed good anticipation, reading the defenders header and narrowly lobbing the ball over.

You can see so many different attributes in those five clips. He shows strength, anticipation, movement, long-range shooting, link play, dribbling, one-on-one finishing and heading.

His shot map shows that not only how he shoots is varied but where he shoots from too.

And his goals seem to be distributed evenly between low, medium and high probability chances. Meaning he’s not on an unsustainable ‘hot’ streak.

While not the main part of his game Ferguson’s creativity for other teammates seems solid too. He only has one assist so far this season but assists a shot at a rate of one per game. However, some of these tend to be far from goal (low probability chances) so if you were being very harsh you could say this was an area he could improve.

The below graphs shows the calendar year (not this season) and doesn’t include the West Brom game but you get a decent picture. The black line shows an assist while the feint grey lines show shot assists.

The modern centre forward must also be able to press and Ferguson is capable here too. He scores 6.1 Pressing duels per 90 in PL2 this year which is well above average. Wyscout describes a pressing dual as ‘When a player moves to apply pressure on an opposing player who is in possession of the ball but doesn’t make physical or ball contact.

He just turned 17 on the19th of October so it’s important to be cautious about someone so young. Ireland fans only need to look at Ferguson’s teammate Aaron Connolly to know that progress is not linear. Having said that, he does look very promising and has all the tools to develop into an excellent all-around number 9. A Premier League debut for Brighton and an Ireland senior debut look like they’re just around the corner and he could turn out to be an important player for both in years to come.

All stats are from Wyscout or Transfermarkt and are correct as of 11/1/22.

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