New power of Scotland

A creative force has arrived north of the border. But has England anyone to rival Barry Ferguson?; At just 20, the latest icon at Ibrox is arousing memories of the glory days of the midfield artist.
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The Independent Online
BARRY FERGUSON'S diary column in Rangers' new glossy magazine betrays his off-the-field vices. Ibrox's latest icon is a lounge lizard.

His manager Dick Advocaat can relax, though. It is living-rooms which preoccupy the young midfielder, not bars. Shopping for furniture to fill his new house, rather than sinking pints, is how the 20-year-old fills his spare time.

Given the youngster's close proximity to Paul Gascoigne over the last three years, Advocaat could have been forgiven for jumping to conclusions had he heard any gossip about Ferguson. But, as his self-penned diary proves, Ferguson's days and nights are not likely to be reproduced in more salacious publications.

"Boring, boring, boring," he writes, in self-deprecation of his private life. Oh, that Gazza had been able to admit likewise when he was in Glasgow. The England international may still not have curbed the excesses which stalked his life at Rangers, but his departure allowed Ferguson to move out of the shadows and prove what a talent was waiting to flourish.

Had Gazza remained at Ibrox, Ferguson would almost certainly not be there. Those Rangers fans who see the slim playmaker as their new idol, have already decided that the better man stayed. By 8pm tonight, Ferguson could have grown from a boy into a king if he helps to defeat Celtic in the season's first Old Firm Premier League encounter.

Ferguson is reluctant to talk about Gascoigne, having already been dubbed "the Scots Gazza", among other things. Anyway, his own role model, for all things, good and bad, is a lot closer to home. Over a decade ago, another Ferguson stood poised to claim the adulation: Barry's older brother, Derek.

That Derek Ferguson is now remembered for what he did not achieve, rather than the sublime skill that saw him make his Rangers first-team debut in 1984 at the age of 16, and earn two Scotland caps before he was out of his teens, is a sobering thought. Bar-room scrapes with those other Ibrox young guns of the day, Ian Durrant and Ally McCoist, ate away at his promise and moves to Hearts and Sunderland served only to underline what an opportunity he had called "time" on.

These days, big brother is 31 and now playing for Dunfermline. Big brother's legacy is a daily reminder to Barry not to waste his gifts. "I'm very close to Derek," Barry said. "And he has been brilliant to me. He made a few mistakes in his career and he has passed on the advice to me. He has told me that it is OK to have a beer but that you have to have it at the right time. Not three times a week. After a game on a Saturday night, a couple with your pals is fine. The rest of the time, you should work hard and prepare for the next game."

Barry was only a starry-eyed schoolboy when he hung on his brother's coat-tails, basking in the reflected glow. Sadly, Derek had too many older hangers-on sharing his time too. That is a problem Barry will soon encounter for himself. A first cap last month, against Lithuania, and a match against St Johnstone that saw him produce the most delightful display of creative artistry has put a neon sign above the youngster's head.

But he is determined not to be seduced. "My family and everyone at Ibrox have told me to keep my feet on the ground," he said. "You lose too many people if you get big-headed. It would be easy to get carried away, but that won't happen. Derek has seen to that. I know I am in the fortunate position, playing for one of the biggest clubs in Europe, but I'm just a normal bloke."

What makes Ferguson so seductive to the Rangers fans is that he is a born-and-bred Rangers fan. In the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Ibrox, where Colin Hendry admits Italian is the first language in the dressing-room, Ferguson is a reminder that the club should never ignore its roots.

The irony, however, is that it took a foreigner to spot the hidden gem. Advocaat's meticulous eye was captivated by Ferguson, rather than Brian Laudrup or Gascoigne, before he had even walked into Ibrox's marble hallway in June. "Dick had videos of all Rangers' youth and reserve games sent to him, which was good because I had been forgotten about a little bit under Walter Smith."

Ferguson was actually ready to leave his beloved Ibrox during the summer, so great was his frustration at playing only 10 games and being made to sit out the Scottish Cup final. Rangers had received offers from Newcastle, Arsenal and Sunderland, but a telephone call from Advocaat persuaded him to stay. "I wanted to leave and for a while it looked like happening. But Dick told me that I was a big part of his plans and that if I did the business on a Saturday, I would be in the team regardless of my age. The fact that he has done that, has given me a lot of confidence. Confidence is the biggest change in my game since Dick has arrived."

Walter Smith may have shared Ferguson's Rangers background, but the former manager preferred his foreign legion to the homegrown talent. And that second-class status was never more hurtful to Ferguson than when he was denied an Old Firm debut last January. His playmaking skills lit up a 4-1 win against Dundee United, but he was dropped against Celtic just four days later and a 2-0 defeat at Parkhead proved the folly of the decision. "I was gutted," Ferguson said. "Although I tried hard not to show it, I was hurting badly inside. Walter Smith obviously didn't think I could handle the Old Firm game and although I didn't agree with him, I had to respect his decision."

Now, Ferguson will get the belated chance to play in the game every player in Scotland dreams of. Old Firm games may have been given a continental cast, but you don't need pounds 20,000 a week to get pumped up this weekend. "This is the kind of occasion every player wants to be involved in," he said. "I am never nervous and I am going to treat it like any other game. Old Firm games are never great footballing spectacles. They are a bit of a battle."

The Clan Ferguson has flourished at Old Trafford and Goodison, but maybe the fourth generation to wear the blue jersey (after Alex, Derek and Duncan) can prove you don't need to leave home to be a success.

SCOTTISH HERITAGE: PLAYMAKERS OF THE PAST

GEORGE CONNELLY

Celtic: Another with a talent matched by a capacity to self-destruct. He beat Kenny Dalglish to the first team and scored in the 4-0 rout of Rangers in the 1969 Scottish Cup final and against Leeds United in the European Cup a year later. But mysteriously dropped out of the game just before the 1974 World Cup finals.

PAUL McSTAY

Celtic: One-club man who probably served up his best displays for Celtic, rather than his country, despite making 76 appearances. McStay's vision and unerring accuracy, saw him in the first team at 17 and a Scotland shirt at 18. Turned down the chance to move to Udinese in 1992.

JIM BAXTER

Rangers: The man who summed up the Sixties and the Scot. "Slim" Jim blew his talent away with a flow of booze which saw him retire at 29, but his artistry and ball skills left a lasting memory. Cocky, like only a Scot could be, his taunting of Alan Ball in the 3-2 defeat of England at Wembley by playing "keepie-uppie", sums up his approach to life and the game.

GRAEME SOUNESS

Rangers: The man of whom it was once said (by a Scotland team-mate) "if he was chocolate, he'd eat himself" proved he was no soft-centre. The arrogant streak, though, meant that passes rarely missed their target and he could score too.

IAN DURRANT

Rangers: But for the cruel three-year absence for a shattered cruciate ligament, who knows what he might have achieved. Souness was convinced the young Durrant (he was capped by Scotland as a teenager) was good enough to play in Serie A. Darting runs and an eye for goal characterised his play.

BOBBY MURDOCH

Celtic: The sweetest passer the Scottish game ever saw. The linchpin of the 1967 European Cup-winning Celtic side and a near ever-present in the nine-in-a-row team Jock Stein built. Jack Charlton took him to Middlesbrough in 1973 to tutor a youngster called Graeme Souness.

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