Is Duncan Ferguson the worst value for money footballer ever?
Sunday August 17, 2003
'That deal is regarded here at Everton as the worst in the club's history.
When Peter Johnson [then chairman] sold him behind Walter Smith's back
to Newcastle the fans went ballistic. But in hindsight, had that been
left alone, it would've been one of the best pieces of business the club
has ever done. It was a huge fee - £7 million. But to buy that
man back does come to represent the one truly great mistake of the new
era. The basic truth is that since he came back to this football club
he has done nothing but drain away resources.'
So speaks a senior Everton insider on Duncan Ferguson, keen pigeon
fancier, cult hero among the fans and, of all the multi-million-pound
in 10 years of Premiership football, arguably the biggest waste of
money of all. And Peter Ridsdale was not involved.
Ferguson will be 32 in December, and is nearing the end of a career
that has never really taken off. As one of his former managers said last
week: 'What has Duncan Ferguson ever actually done?'
Here's the answer:
· In the past 10 seasons, he has scored 59 goals and attracted
transfer fees totalling £18.75 million.
· In three seasons since leaving Newcastle to return to Goodison
Park, he has featured 41 times in the Premiership - 26 starts, 15 as
a substitute - and scored 12 goals. During that same period, he has been
paid more than £5m, and the goals work out at more than £400,000
· Last season he played a total of 192 minutes, all as a substitute.
He did not score a goal. On a weekly wage of £34,000, that's £9,000
· He did not even make the bench at Highbury yesterday because
during those 192 minutes he managed to get banned for three games for
an elbowing incident.
· He has been injured. A lot.
David Moyes, the Everton manager, might even have picked Ferguson yesterday
because his regular strikers, Wayne Rooney and Kevin Campbell, are injured.
Instead, the former Scotland forward sits out another game and picks
up another fortune. By the time his five-year contract runs its course
in 2005, Everton will have paid him £8.5m.
But is that Ferguson's fault? If Everton are paying money for old rope,
it was their decision in the first place. There might be full-time staff
at Goodison who have to work two years to earn what Ferguson picks up
in a week, but the player's lengthy contract is a prime example of financial
mismanagement by a football club. When Everton signed him for a second
time three years ago, they were aware of his injury record, which had
blighted his time at Newcastle and, before that, his first stay at Goodison.
Who, in any walk of life, would let ethics and moral arguments cloud
their judgment on whether or not to accept £34,000 a week in wages?
Ferguson's off-field profile is not helped by his refusal to speak to
the press - unusual for a club captain. People in the game seem reluctant
to talk about him as well. When Observer Sport approached one of his
former managers, he questioned whether it was really The Observer or
if he was being tricked by one of Ferguson's friends 'trying to find
out what I really think of him'.
Ferguson would certainly be offended to hear 'journalist scum' - his
term for the press - suggest he might be a bad investment. But Everton's
non-playing captain has contributed next to nothing in three seasons.
'You can't blame the player for wanting to get the best deal,' says
Gordon Taylor, chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association
(PFA). 'Injuries are part of the game. Players know that.'
The big Scot's potential and ability were never in doubt when he came
to prominence at Dundee United in the early 1990s, though it has not
always been the case since then. Jim McLean, Ferguson's first manager
at Dundee United, said: 'Duncan Ferguson could have been as good as Andy
Gray. But his heart has never been in football in my opinion. It's been
a job and a way in and a way to money. Even from 13 years of age he was
absolutely outstanding. He was obviously excep tional in the air, his
pace and control very good. But his hunger, desire and attitude towards
the game were never 100 per cent.' Ferguson has, says McLean, been one
of the game's great underachievers.
Ferguson arrived at Tannadice after being spotted playing for a team
in Stirling, Carse Thistle, that is still run by Dick Taylor. 'He was
a loner. All his days with Carse [Ferguson played for the under-13s,
14s and 15s], he never came in the mini-bus, he always came with his
dad and his uncle. We never had any bother with him, though at one time
he was more interested in his pigeons than his football.'
Ferguson's goalscoring would soon make him a millionaire. McLean's then
assistant, Walter Smith, signed the 13-year-old on schoolboy forms -
the first of three occasions Smith would bring him to a club. But when
Smith, then manager at Ibrox, signed Ferguson for Rangers in 1993 for
a British record £4m - more than Blackburn Rovers paid for Alan
Shearer - his career had already peaked. He was still only 21.
Ferguson's second season at Tannadice, in 1991-92, yielded a career
best of 38 appearances and 15 goals. He also made a memorable Scotland
debut, hitting the bar with an audacious overhead kick in a friendly
against Germany at Hampden Park. It is now known as the game in which
Ferguson 'nearly scored'. He won six more caps, scored none and fell
out with the Scottish FA after his jailing for the on-field assault of
Raith Rovers' John McStay while playing at Ibrox.
As well as the stretch for the on-field assault, there were three other
cases of violent conduct while Ferguson was in Scotland: a butt on a
policeman after a drunken brawl, an attack on a man on crutches at a
taxi rank after a night out and an assault on a fisherman in a hotel.
On Merseyside, having had the misfortune to be burgled twice, a couple
of years apart, Ferguson defended himself and the burglars ended up in
hospital on both occasions.
Perhaps this endears him to the supporters. He has always stated how
much the Everton fans and the club mean to him. The Goodison insider
says: 'He is very good. We had a day when everyone could come to Goodison
and it was chucking it down with rain, and the last to leave was Ferguson,
signing autographs.' He also speaks of Ferguson being a strong family
man, a regular contributor to charity and a keen visitor to children's
hospitals around Liverpool.
He became a cult hero at Goodison when he arrived in 1994, signed on
loan by Mike Walker after two seasons at Rangers that yielded two goals
in 14 appearances. And being a cult hero - thanks to the timing of his
move, the direct style of his play and his knack of scoring goals in
the right games - was very, very lucrative. 'He was the right man at
the right time for us,' said Jim King, of the Everton Supporters Club.
'He roused the passion at Goodison. He knew what we wanted and what he
could give us.'
The day after failing a Breathalyser test in November 1994, Ferguson
scored in the 2-0 Merseyside derby victory. Two weeks later came a goal
in the 3-0 win over Leeds United and when Walker was replaced by Joe
Royle, the new manager upgraded the loan to a permanent transfer. Royle
said later: 'Ferguson's the legend, he now has to become the player.'
There are plenty who would say it has never happened.
It looked good by the following May. Ferguson had scored a winner against
Manchester United, Everton had avoided relegation and the FA Cup had
been won. The Scot was viewed as the talismanic factor. Weeks later came
the prison stretch, 44 days in Glasgow's Barlinnie jail for butting McStay,
who said at the time: 'I was with Raith for eight years, but when all
this blew up I felt they just dropped me like a brick. They seemed more
concerned what Rangers thought about it.' McStay became a painter and
decorator and still refuses to speak about the incident in detail nine
years later. 'It cost me in so many ways,' he told The Observer .
It seemed to have the opposite effect on Ferguson. His time inside added
to his standing among supporters and when he came out, the following
two years were productive - 62 games and 21 goals. The manner of his
transfer to Newcastle United in 1998, conducted behind new manager Smith's
back and with Ferguson declaring how upset he was, allowed him to remain
the fans' favourite. And, of course, keep the door open for a possible
return as the prodigal son.
It duly happened. Eight goals in 30 appearances during an injury-blighted
two seasons at Newcastle, and Ferguson headed back to Merseyside. The
effect is still being felt.
'I know for a fact,' says the Everton insider, 'that Bill Kenwright
[the Everton vice-chairman] deep down knows it was truly a great mistake
that he made. The general feeling inside the boardroom at the time was: "No,
don't buy Duncan Ferguson." But Bill went out on a limb because
Walter Smith said: "Yes, I'd like him back." He did it primarily
to please Walter and also because he genuinely thought the fans wanted
Ferguson was popular three summers ago, but now 'he seems to have got
frustrated with injuries and is not really interested any more', according
to a supporters' representative. The Goodison insider confirmed this.
'When he's fit and he's in the loop he's fine. But when he's not fit
and he's not training, then I honestly don't think he cares that much,
and I think his love of football lessened greatly when Rooney became
Ferguson has been unlucky with injuries. He missed much of last season
with a trapped sciatic nerve and at one stage was told that he may have
to retire. He recovered, though, and apparently still has a strong enough
hold over the fans to concern Moyes. 'There was an idea that he would
be stripped of the club captaincy this year, but it has not happened,'
said the Everton source. 'I don't think anyone else would've been able
to get away with most of the stuff Ferguson has. I don't think anyone
else would have been made club captain with the same record.
'Moyes isn't physically scared but there's an air about Ferguson, and
though Moyes wants to get rid of him he can't. For the money he's being
paid, the manager could bring in three players.'
Is Ferguson embarrassed by his situation? The Observer cannot ask him
because he would not speak to us. A Goodison colleague said: 'I don't
think he is. I mean, Moyes's main mission in life was to get Ferguson
out there and show the sup porters and the public that he could no longer
do it. To show that he can't actually cope with first-team football any
more, which is the last thing Ferguson wants because he's on £34,000
a week and if he can get away with only playing 10 games a season he'll
Players who cannot, for whatever reason, give a full return on their
multi-million-pound contracts are the cause of clubs' financial difficulties.
Since Bosman and the Sky TV money, there have been numerous examples
of clubs overspending on wages and transfer fees. Bryan Robson spent
a fortune at Middlesbrough.
There was Stan Collymore at Aston Villa, the Bradford City fiasco with
Benito Carbone, Marcelino at Newcastle, where, apparently, fans are beginning
to see injury-prone Carl Cort (22 games, seven goals, three seasons)
in the same light. Has anyone outside Manchester ever heard of Matias
Vuoso? Kevin Keegan paid more than £4m for the Argentine and he
never even made the bench in the League Cup before being loaned out to
a Mexican club this summer. He is still on City's books, along with two
other Keegan signings, Christian Negouai and Lucien Mettemo, who have
25 appearances and two goals between them in two seasons of service.
But what is the solution? Mention the notion that some players have
underperformed to Taylor and the players' union chairman becomes indignant.
The following was his exchange with The Observer last week.
Taylor: 'Stop saying players don't perform. I find that very objectionable.'
Observer : 'OK, Winston Bogarde of Chelsea. He hasn't appeared , then.'
Taylor: 'Whose fault is that? Not his. The lad's been training. If they
don't want to play him they can choose to sell him, but the contract's
the contract. We're in the business of making sure contracts are honoured,
otherwise you have players being hired and fired at a minute's notice.'
Observer : 'The situation with Ferguson at Everton, do you see that
Taylor [breaking in]: 'When Ferguson's fit he's been the absolute darling
of the fans. He's always had problems with injuries and it may well be
that Everton have him insured and they decide to call it a day and then
they could get the insurance money and settle the contract. The club
don't look after players when they're in their forties and fifties and
they've got arthritis or bad knees. Is it fair then that the club should
look after them? Because they don't. Nobody means to get injured but
if you know somebody who does, let me know.'
Taylor's support for players and their rights is the main reason why
the PFA pay him, and rate him, so highly. Despite his views, though,
clubs are wary of players who appear to be injury-prone. Bolton's new
striker, Mario Jardel, had such a bad relationship with Galatasaray that
the Turkish club wanted him to provide medical certificates to confirm
the existence of not only his latest injury, but the state of his mental
Does, or should, Ferguson care about any of this? As he commented when
he first signed for Everton, for a club record fee of £4m: 'The
way I see it, the club could pay £10 million for me and it would
still be nothing to do with me.'
The thought lingers, though, that his career could have been so much
more. As McLean added: 'Beyond a shadow of a doubt he has never achieved
anything near what he could have done. I said to him time and time again: "The
game means far too much to me, I know that. But it means fuck all to
Injured, not injured, or just no good? Top of the flops
· Winston Bogarde (Chelsea) - Signed on a Bosman three years
ago. Has made two starts and plans to sit out his £2m-a-year contract,
which runs out in 12 months.
· Agustin Delgado (Southampton) - Has spent more time in Ecuador
recovering from injuries than he has on the pitch. Cost £3.5m in
2001 and has made two starts.
· Matias Vuoso (Man City) - Cost £3.5m just over a year
ago but didn't even make the bench in the League Cup last season. Now
on loan to Santos Laguna.
· Bosko Balaban (Aston Villa) - John Gregory thought £5.8m
was a fair price for this Croatia striker. Two summers later, no Premiership
starts, one in League Cup and no goals. Earns £20,000 a week.
· Alpay (Aston Villa) - The £5.6m defender has promised
to try this season after going on strike last year - he made just five
starts for his £20,000 a week.
· Gabriel Ambrosetti (Chelsea) - Signed by Gianluca Vialli in
August 1999 for £3.5m from Vicenza as 'the Italian Ryan Giggs'.
Has made nine Premiership starts in four years.
· Steve Marlet (Fulham) - Jean Tigana's £11.5m capture
from Lyon paid back the fee with 10 Premiership goals since his arrival
· Francis Jeffers (Arsenal) - After turning down a £28,000-a-week
deal at Everton, joined Arsenal for £8m in summer 2001. He has
made four Premiership starts.
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