Football: Ferguson discovers the power of speech

It's good to talk, Newcastle's pounds 7m signing is ready to admit - an d Scotland's coach may be his next call
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The Independent Online
DUNCAN FERGUSON yesterday reopened the lines of communication with his international coach, Craig Brown, and dropped his first hint that he is prepared to rethink his decision never to play again for Scotland.

With Ruud Gullit, his new club manager at Newcastle, keen to encourage a repatriation, and Ferguson himself at least prepared to listen, there is some prospect that Brown may be able to utilise the outgoing Everton captain en route to the European Championship finals.

Football's great recluse has decided that the time is now right for dialogue - not just with the Scottish Football Association, whose members were struck from his Christmas card list last season, but with the rest of the outside world, too.

Ferguson, the footballer who simply refuses to involve himself as an interviewee, just about talked his head off yesterday when he was presented to the media at St James' Park following his pounds 7m transfer, which will be worth a further pounds 1m to Everton after 30 games.

The 26-year-old striker, who last played for his country two seasons ago against Estonia in Monaco, said: "At the moment what happens at Newcastle is closest to my thoughts, but in the future it could be Scotland. We will just have to wait and see."

It is surprising what a blast of cold north-east air can do for the soul. There was not even a press conference to mark his pounds 4.4m move from Rangers to Everton in October 1994. Yet the man with the Trappist touch even hinted that this might not prove to be simply a once in a lifetime offer.

"I have always been uncomfortable in front of the cameras," he said. "I decided I just didn't want to speak to people. I carried that over from Scotland. Maybe now it's time I started to speak to some of the press people."

It is a process to which he is surprisingly well suited, as he demonstrated before heading off for a training session in readiness for Saturday's home game against Wimbledon. Ferguson talked at length about his bond with Everton fans and the hopes he has for the partnership he is about to forge with Alan Shearer.

"I had a great relationship with the Everton fans, a great rapport," Ferguson said. "I showed loyalty to them, they showed loyalty to me - and that will never change.

"That is probably why a part of me will always be at Goodison. You can't just switch off like that. I will miss them. But it was Everton who put me up for sale and didn't want me. Newcastle did want me, and that was good enough for me.

"Once I realised they were interested it became an easy decision, it took me about an hour. But I was surprised Everton were prepared to sell considering their position in the League. Obviously, that was part of the agenda and, if they think it is going to benefit the club, then that is up to them. I believe other clubs did show interest, but I only spoke to Newcastle."

Gullit, who disclosed that he first tried to sign Ferguson during his days as Chelsea's player-manager, believes he will take the weight off Shearer, whose own Tyneside future remains in doubt.

When the subject of the England captain was again raised yesterday, the Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd, prevented any debate. "Can I just stop that," he said. "This is Duncan Ferguson's day, not Alan Shearer's."

So as long as Shearer is around, Ferguson hopes to make the most of it, saying: "Anyone would benefit playing alongside someone like Alan. But I don't think you could say I can bring the best out of him. He is a quality player, one of the world's best, and has proved he can do the business on his own."

Gullit, whose predecessors Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish virtually had an open cheque book, has had to sell two players in Steve Watson (to Aston Villa) and Stephane Guivarc'h (Rangers) to fund this transfer. Though the climate may change, he must have serious doubts about whether he will ever get his hands on a Keegan pounds 60m or Dalglish's pounds 34m.

Ferguson, whose newly signed five-and-a-half year contract is reputedly worth in excess of pounds 10m, may now play for Scotland again - a thought he not so long ago found unpalatable after the way he thought the Scottish FA showed its colours in the wake of the John McStay affair. Ferguson was not only banned for 12 matches after head-butting the Raith Rovers player, but was also carted off to Glasgow's Barlinnie jail for his sins. What Ferguson wondered was where the Scottish FA was when he needed its support.

Time, including time served, it would seem, is a great healer. While Gullit says he will not force the player into a corner, he does believe a reconciliation should be effected.

Gullit said: "I would like him to play for Scotland again. It is good for any player to turn out for his country. Duncan has had difficulties with Scotland in the past but I believe these difficulties can be overcome. But I am not going to force him to do anything."

For Newcastle's chief executive, Freddie Fletcher, who put together the deal over which manager Water Smith almost quit Everton, it is a piece of business he unsuccessfully tried to negotiate on Keegan's behalf five years ago, when Ferguson played for Dundee United.

Fletcher can well understand why Gullit has followed in Keegan's transfer footsteps, observing: "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see where we were lacking."

So, at long last, Newcastle have a centre-forward who can dominate opponents in the air. The fans will not have seen the like of Ferguson since Wyn "The Leap" Davies inspired them to win their last piece of silverware, the old Fairs Cup, back in 1969.

Davies, who was just as taciturn, ended up working in a Lancashire bakery after football. Maybe that gives Ferguson food for thought.