Football: Ferguson conundrum for club and country

Click to follow
The Independent Online
West Ham United 2 Everton 2 The pity of it is, for Scotland's sake anyway, that Duncan Ferguson has turned his back on international football. In this form, maximising his heading ability and disruptive strength, what a threat the big man would be in the World Cup finals.

Strategic developments are no safeguard against the threat posed by players equipped for aerial combat. Add Ferguson's quick feet, the commitment he showed when helping Everton to a 2- 2 draw at West Ham on Saturday, and it is no wonder that his presence causes consternation. "He really is a handful," Harry Redknapp said. "Even when goalkeepers are up at full stretch, he can outjump them."

If problems of temperament have prevented Ferguson from fulfilling the potential that took him into Scotland's squad for the 1992 European Championship when not much more than a teenager (the Germans had him down for special consideration) his attitude at present cannot be faulted.

And who did Howard Kendall turn to as captain in the absence of unsettled Gary Speed? Not the veteran Dave Watson, not Slaven Bilic, but Ferguson. "The skipper did well for us," Kendall smiled, before adding seriously: "If we can get quality balls to Duncan, he is unstoppable."

Of course, it is not enough to have the gifts (in Ferguson's case the spring to go with his 6ft 4in and surprising nimbleness). Factors common to all outstanding players are consistency, determination and a willingness to co-operate fully in team matters.

Ferguson's form on Saturday suggested the realisation that he should have made a great deal more of his talent. If so, this will be greatly to Everton's benefit and could even persuade Scotland's manager, Craig Brown, to reopen negotiations.

In all probability, Ferguson's past misdemeanours will go against him in Brown's mind, but the risk could be worth taking. After all, Scotland are not so well off for strikers that they can afford to ignore the unnerving effect Ferguson has on Premier League defenders.

Ferguson even managed to upstage Trevor Sinclair, who made a fine start at West Ham after a pounds 2m move from Queen's Park Rangers. Alert and lively ("I've had my eyes on Trevor since he was a schoolboy," Redknapp said) Sinclair scored twice and left the field to an ovation.

It was Ferguson, however, who stood out - literally, you might say - as the game's outstanding attacker, causing West Ham's defensive markers, Rio Ferdinand and Ian Pearce, no end of difficulties. For Ferdinand, whose career is not best served by premature comparisons with Bobby Moore, it was an advancement in education.

It is no exaggeration to suggest that Ferguson is capable of getting up higher than the crossbar. That is certainly the impression he sometimes gives, one shared probably by West Ham's defenders in the 25th minute when he headed across goal for Nick Barmby to equalise Sinclair's opening effort.

The enterprise shown by both teams (there is more to Kendall's team than hitting high balls to its central striker) made this as good a match as you are likely to see in a largely overrated Premiership.

Sinclair's second goal, after a smart combination with Eyal Berkovitch, further livened up West Ham's supporters, but Everton, level again through Mickael Madar, appeared to last better. Had the substitute, Danny Cadamarteri, lifted his head in the final minute to see Ferguson unmarked, they would probably have taken all three points.

Kendall's explanation for showing up promptly in the press room was that it had not been necessary to address his players at length. "Just well done," he said.

Things may be changing for Kendall as much as they have for Redknapp. A year ago, West Ham's manager was under the sort of heavy pressure Kendall knew until his team's recent improvement.

Largely through the purchase of John Hartson and Paul Kitson, ridiculed at the time, Redknapp turned things around. For Kendall it is a case of keeping Ferguson on the boil.

Goals: Sinclair (10) 1-0; Barmby (25) 1-1; Sinclair (48) 2-1; Madar (60) 2-2.

West Ham United (3-5-2): Forrest; Pearce, Potts, Ferdinand; Breacker, Lampard, Lomas, Berkovitch, Lazaridis; Sinclair (Hodges, 85), Hartson. Substitutes not used: Sealey (gk), Bishop, Mean, Coyne.

Everton (3-5-2): Myhre; Bilic, Watson, Ball; O'Kane (Allen, 69), Barmby, Grant, Farrelly, Ward; Madar (Cadamarteri, 80), Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Gerrard (gk), Dunne, Oster.

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Bookings: Everton: O'Kane, Farrelly.

Man of the match: Ferguson.

Attendance: 25,909.

Comments